Here is a guest post by Alan Tripp, CEO of InsideTrack, a San Francisco firm that offers personalized academic coaching to boost college retention.

Courtesy InsideTrack.

Roughly 40 percent of America’s college students are non-traditional students.  They are workers who’ve gone back to school, former members of the military embarking on new careers and single parents wanting to do better for their families.  They could also be one of the most important game-changers in the ongoing national discussion on college completion and the continuing dialogue at College Inc. about how to fix higher education.

Colleges are struggling with graduation rates and according to a recent analysis of 1,400 colleges and universities by the Chronicle of Higher Education, one third of four-year institutions experienced lower graduation rates over the six-year period ending in 2008. Not surprisingly, that downward turn is also reflected in news that the U.S., once a leader, is losing ground to other nations in the percentage of its citizens who complete college.

As experts look at ways to improve these outcomes, it is important to remember the millions of adult students who are now engaged in the pursuit of college degrees.

If we are to reverse the trend of lower graduation rates, we must address the specific needs of this group of students. We know non-traditional students hold much potential, but we also know that nearly two thirds of them drop out of college, which has a significant impact on graduation rates in the U.S.

The good news, however, is that new data tells us why adult college students drop out and how we can best impact them.

-- A plurality of students (30 percent) cited managing commitments (such as balancing work, family and school) as their reason for dropping out.

-- Difficulty managing finances, at 26 percent, was the second most common reason. (Among younger students – those under 25 – finances ranked first.)

— For 13 percent of adult students, effectiveness (maintaining momentum and seeing complex projects through to completion) was the main reason for dropping out.

— For 9 percent of students, lack of a commitment to graduation factored most prominently.

— Health problems and lack of support followed closely at 8.6 percent.

 This information was uncovered by our research at InsideTrack, and is based on data for 45,000 students from 17 colleges and universities. 

Based on our work with 250,000 students over the past decade, InsideTrack has learned another important fact about non-traditional students:  nearly all of them have the academic capabilities they need to stay in school and graduate. 

 Understanding the reasons students drop out of college is a key step in understanding how to fix higher education.  Schools can do much more to help students overcome obstacles in and outside of the classroom. 

We don’t need a major overhaul of our educational system or a huge increase in spending to create more graduates and achieve our national goals.  Providing students with a support system like coaching can have a significant impact on keeping them in school and enabling them to graduate. 

Follow College Inc. on Twitter.