‘Sometimes It Takes Living And Making Mistakes To Know Which Path To Follow’

Gabrielle Weir, Staff Writer

The United States experiences a 40 percent college dropout rate every year according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), headquartered in Paris, ranked the U.S. 19, out of 28 countries, in overall graduation rates.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), three in every 10 students drop out after or within the first year in college with only 41 percent of students graduating after four years without delay.

Only 30 percent of these dropouts re-enroll in college to finish their degree. When many of these individuals return to college, they often turn to community colleges, such as Brookdale.

“I was supposed to graduate from St. John’s University spring of 2010,” said Nicole Galante, a 34-year-old Brookdale Arts graduate from Freehold. “I went right after high school— and failed to earn a bachelor’s degree in English. The major I was studying was just picked randomly, and not because I was working toward a specific career. So, eight years later, I made the decision to return to college to finish what I started.”

“I was at a point in my life that I needed to find some direction and change,” said Toni LoPresti, a 28-year-old part-time Brookdale student from Monroe. “Going back to school at Brookdale was just the next right step for me. I dove in head first. I was just excited to be back in school. I got pretty emotional my first day of class”

JR Carlino, a 36-year-old full-time mathematics student at Brookdale Community College, said he came back to school for “personal and career growth.”

The Education Data Initiative (EDI) states, on average, students who drop out of school are expected to earn $21,000 less than college graduates, ultimately making 35 percent less than their counterparts per year.

“I was 29 years old when I enrolled at Brookdale Community College. I wanted a better quality of life,” said Galante. “I worked in the restaurant business as a server for many years, and later as a supervisor. I thought I would grow to become a general manager. But that would limit me from spending time with my family and having a family of my own one day. The restaurant business demanded much of my time, including holidays, and I decided this was not the lifestyle I wanted to live.”

According to the Global Community for Academic Advising, Undecided students represent a significant proportion of the entering student body at most colleges and universities. Between 60 and 75 percent of students who begin college as declared majors will change at least once before they graduate.

“I came back to school after finding my passion and knowing what I wanted as a career…a food scientist,” Carlino said.

“I decided to take a career scope and psychology test to gain a better understanding of what interested me,” said Galante. “When I saw the results, I discovered my passion to teach. So, when I started, I knew what I wanted to do because I took the time to learn about myself and explore my options.”

“I’m taking a bunch of courses to see what I’m interested in,” said LoPresti. “Sometimes I feel like I should know by now, but I also think I’ll know when something is right for me.”

The NCES says the three main reasons for students to leave college are financial concerns, academic disqualification and difficulty in balancing life and college.

“Any scholarships I could apply for, I went for,” said Galante. “There have been many challenges. The two biggest challenges that come to my mind are time management and finances.”

“Being in my early thirties, I learned how difficult it was to sustain work and school while taking care of myself and my financial responsibilities,” Galante added. “I am a full-time student teacher now and expected to graduate with my master’s degree in education in the spring of 2023 from Georgian Court University.”

Even with all the challenges, these students are driven and excited for their future.

“Time is going to pass regardless of what we do,” said Carlino. “Don’t let the length of time something will take to achieve stop you from starting or restarting.”

“I am grateful to be in school now compared to when I was in high school,” said LoPresti. “I think I should be miles ahead of where I am, so I try to stop and just appreciate how far I’ve come.”

“It is never too late to try something new, make changes, pursue your passions and dreams,” Galante said. “Sometimes it takes living life and making mistakes before knowing which direction to take or path to follow. That’s actually one of the reasons I chose to become a teacher. I hope I can help students build valuable skills to help them navigate the world, and let them know, it is never too late to follow your dreams and be the best person you can be.”