Features In Focus

Comeback kids

While some students leave to travel and reevaluate their degrees, many leave because of financial or personal problems, including physical and mental health issues.

Simultaneously smoking a cigarette and coasting into the quad on her bicycle, Jess Geddes is every bit the King’s student.
But this is Geddes’ first month back  in university since 2010, when she   dropped out after three years at King’s. She is one of 24 students returning to King’s this fall, according to the registrar’s office.
“I do see myself as an old soul of King’s, but also a newcomer in a lot of ways,” says Geddes, “I see all the people I went to school with and swapped notes with, taking oral exams and taking up positions at the registrar’s office. It’s interesting. I feel like I’ve developed in a different way, but also, now I’m coming back into King’s at the same, or maybe less, of a position than everybody else.”

Returning student Jess Geddes (Photo: Keili Bartlett)

Elizabeth Yeo, the registrar at King’s, says that it’s very common for students to return after a year or more.
There’s quite a range of reasons that students dropout, says Yeo. While some students leave to travel and reevaluate their degrees, many leave because of financial or personal problems, including physical and mental health issues.
When Geddes dropped out, there were several factors leading to her decision.
The first was her chronic illness, Crohn’s disease, for which she was hospitalized during her third year.
“It’s really bad with stress, and I felt it was really stressful to be in school,” said Geddes.
When she returned to school, her academic advisor was gone. He had helped Geddes access accommodation for her learning disabilities, and no one else knew her file.
“It was a big slap in the face. On top of my chronic illness, accessibility problems and issues, I also just was not very good at school to begin with,” she says.
“It was very hard for me to get situated in a university context. There were a lot of problems for me advocating for myself and talking to my professors before things became a problem. That’s something that I’m really working on coming back to school. It’s an important life lesson that I unfortunately learned while paying out of the nose for my student loan, you know?”
By the time she visited the guidance counselors at Dalhousie, Geddes says it was too late, although they were helpful.
“If a student is considering leaving, we first try to determine what are the contributing factors. We really try to pinpoint what the issue is,” says Yeo.
A number of services are available to students at both Dalhousie and King’s, including career services, mental health facilities and financial help.
This past spring, King’s held a Strategic Enrolment Planning process, asking students what the university could do to help students stay in school. One of the things students mentioned “over and over again,” says Yeo, was the need for more financial help.
This school year, King’s is offering more access to bursaries, which will be reviewed on an individual basis.
King’s Students’ Union president Michaela Sam sat on the subcommittee of enrolment management as a student representative. By crowdsourcing through the union’s social media and website, students were able to give their feedback.
Among other responses, Sam says that tuition fees are “monumentally affecting enrolment numbers.”
She also believes that there are ways that King’s could improve their mental health facilities, which they share with Dalhousie. The Mental Health Matters campaign, started in Nova Scotia, is a new initiative that the KSU supports, and focuses on how mental health affects student success.
“I feel like dropping out of university, it’s not something that you really want to talk about. There’s still a stigma about it. It was really hard watching all of my friends graduate, the ones that continued on,” says Geddes.
“It sits right here on your chest,” she says, tapping her own chest with both hands.  “People say all the time that they wish they could get time back, but that’s not time that you can get back. If you don’t make decisions from your heart, at least make decisions stepping back. I’m glad that I did, and that I have the opportunity to continue to do so. There is empathy, there is compassion; you have to be patient with yourself. It’s ok that you don’t have it all figured out. You can always come back to school if you want to.”
Her biggest piece of advice? Talk to someone.
“There are so many people that would love to listen to you at King’s. If they’re going to drop out, know that there is hope…Your late teens, early twenties should not be the end all, be all of your life. I hear about people who just decide what they want to do in their sixties. I’m just grateful that I came back three years later and still wanted to do the same degree.
“But I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” Geddes says with a laugh.
Read Jess Geddes’ editorial about dropping out and returning to King’s here.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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