What it means to be “off-track to graduate”

How everyone can learn to let go of the emerging adulthood timeline

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Colleges are just as concerned about this topic as a parent may be.  From a university perspective, they want [read “need”] their students to graduate within the 6-year cohort.  If they are a state institution, that’s how they get some of their funding by demonstrating their increase in graduation rates.  They do want the student to be successful and thrive on campus, and at the end of the day they are also thinking long-term about their business overhead.  Don’t believe me?  Ask any university how they operate.

For parents, the concern comes from a place of fear.  If their young adult just failed a semester of classes, or if they are advocating or needing to enroll in a treatment program and withdrawing from campus.  A parent’s biggest fear is “will they still be on track to graduate if they take a semester off?” or “will they ever return to college if they leave now?”  The answer to both is “it depends.”  A student who is struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues is guaranteed to not be on-track to graduate if they continue to not get the help they need.  Not only that, they tend to dig themselves into a huge hole academically they sometimes inhibit them from ever being able to graduate and/or feel successful.  And to the question of whether or not they’ll return if they leave, that also depends.  Yes, I understand that college is the expectation across the US and world for that matter.  Realistically though, a lot of young people don’t like school.  They also don’t need a college degree to be happy and thriving in adulthood.  Anyone in higher education right now is probably shaking their fist at me.  I shake mine right back for pushing hard to retain students who probably would have been better off never been accepted in the first place.

Let them work, heal, and do what needs to be done before the conversation about returning to college is ever broached.  They may start in a career path that they love and never need a college degree.  Or they may work for five years and then make their own decision to return to school to specifically get a degree that will help them being promoted within their industry.  The only degree that’s non-negotiable is a high school diploma, but that’s another conversation for another day.

Let’s shift our perspective on this topic and transform fear into acceptance.  Instead of viewing your young adult as “off-track” or not on the same path as their peers, consider viewing it as them actually being “on-track” to being healthier, happier, and otherwise in a place they need to be, rather than on campus flailing.  The only entity in this story that will really not be pleased about the outcome of leaving a college campus is the university itself.  In reality, they have hundreds if not thousands of students leaving already, so this isn’t a new phenomenon.  Just shift your perspective.  You may be surprised with how quickly your young adult begins to thrive the moment they step off campus and get the help they really need. 

For anyone looking for additional resources around mental health, substance abuse, college transition coaching, or parent resources you can find them on: or follow @lilleyconsulting, or

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