So many dropouts - so little time

Hopefully most of the college freshmen who complete their degree programs and walk away with diplomas also got real educations. Some percentage will say their diplomas are not worth the paper they're printed on. They will claim the courses they took were useless or value they took away from the academic side of their college experience was nil. Yet having personally cleared all the hurdles gets most college grads thinking like academics who view dropouts as lacking in commitment, study skills or the financial resources to go the distance. Thus there is neither much compassion in the world for college dropouts or numerous safety nets to catch them when they fall.

In the view of disruptive innovators such as myself, the  college dropouts show up on our radars as untapped demand, unrivaled market space and non-consumers in need of innovative value propositions. However, they cannot be sold on any new solution if they get stereotyped as extremely similar. So I've been pondering how to differentiate between niches of college dropouts. That exploration led me to define four niches of dropouts of degree programs. Here's their brief profiles:

  1. Opt-outs choose to leave college because it's not working for them to stick around. They may experience wasting their time or money. They are likely becoming depressed when they consider staying in college and getting in a far better mood when they contemplate their exit from academia. 
  2. Burn-outs  drop out of college to cut their losses and make ends meet. They get entangled in concurrent obligations which overtax their energy, mental prowess and organizing abilities. They may have become ensnared in campus activities, athletics, employment or family obligations which shortchanged their academic performance. 
  3. Flame-outs fall into too much partying and binge drinking. They compromise their interpersonal connections for getting respected, trusted and understood. They become trapped in clinging, co-dependent relationships which wallow in self-pity and drown their sorrows with alcohol abuse. 
  4. Flunk-outs fail to get challenged by playing the grade game. They may be feeling cheated by low quality instructors or betrayed by the lack of course offerings that match their interests. There appears no way to win and many ways to lose which makes bad grades look like a way out of their nightmare. 

An innovative business model that served any of these four niches, could potentially serve some other populations as well. Among college graduates there are many who drop out of employment or a career that's congruent with their college major. These twixters, late bloomers or "failures to launch" present diverse profiles to also be addressed responsively. Because compassion for dropouts would be a major turnaround for academia and its outputs, start-ups in this space may scale significantly without provoking enticing rivals to invade, imitate or price-cut the new deal.

Note: This post addresses issue: 12. Serving the dropouts first
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.

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