College is an overwhelming time for many students on campus. For Janet Riggs, studying at Huntington University came with an extra set of challenges that led to her withdrawal.
By Peyton Pitman, Assistant Editor
On December 12, 2018, Janet Riggs sat in a small hospital bed in Northern Indiana, waiting to give birth to her new son Lucius Harvey Anderson. She felt fear and tension building up inside of her at the prospect of having a child — the same feelings she felt a year before while in college at Huntington University.
Although giving birth to Lucius was a scary chapter in Riggs’ life, it did not compare to her experience in college that eventually led to her withdrawal.
Shortly after graduating from Tri-West Hendricks High School in Lizton, Ind., Riggs enrolled at HU as a graphic design major, hoping to design for a professional company one day.
At the time of enrollment, she had high hopes for her future at the university.
“I loved the environment and the people,” said Riggs. “I thought a small school would be good, too, because of my anxiety. It felt right at the time.”
Riggs, who is diagnosed with chronic depression and anxiety, soon found out that she was wrong about her decision to attend the college. Her mental illnesses, along with other life factors, made routine classwork at HU challenging. Of the U.S population, 40 percent of undergraduate students drop out of college, and 30 percent of college freshman do not reach their sophomore year. Riggs felt the weight of another year on her back. This led her to become a part of the U.S dropout statistics in the middle of her second year at HU.
“I was very overwhelmed with everything at school and my personal life,” said Riggs. “I felt like I was drowning. I just decided to remove the stress completely and leave. What’s easier than that?”
But the process was not as easy as she initially thought it would be. Although she does not remember much about it, withdrawing from HU had more steps to it than, as Riggs put it, “you want to drop out? Okay, done.”
Before withdrawing from HU, a student must complete an exit process form, according to Scott Raymond, the executive director of student success at HU.
“The process includes visiting 10 HU offices that share information that could have positive consequences for leaving or very negative consequences,” said Raymond. “Each office visit takes minutes or however long it takes the student to think through their options.”
The offices a student must visit include the academic advisor’s office, the registrar’s office, the business office, the financial aid office, the bookstore, the mailroom, the library, the resident director, and the athletic and international offices if the student is an athlete or out-of-country resident.
“It’s designed to be efficient and informational, and no mistakes are made,” said Raymond. “The entire process may take 20 minutes to 30 minutes.”
According to Raymond, around 45 students per semester ask him about the withdrawal process. The desire to leave the university typically stems from problems in the students’ personal life. This was certainly true for Riggs.
“I felt super sick all of the time,” said Riggs. “I was completely unmotivated to sleep, shower, do school work—anything.”
Her depression often caused her to miss days of classes at a time. Her situation only got worse when, a couple of weeks before fall break, she found out she was pregnant. She tried to finish off the semester but eventually hit her breaking point.
“I was on my way to the art studio,” said Riggs, “and I just started bawling my eyes out, I called my mom immediately and told her I just couldn’t do it anymore. It’s a vicious cycle that never stops until it nearly kills you. Middle school, high school, college — everything.”
Students must evaluate how they did in high school and assume it will be the same for college, said Sandy Addis, director of the National Dropout Prevention Center. That way, the likelihood of student success will be higher.
“If they barely made the grades, barely passed the exit test, or aren’t prepared to go on,” said Addis, “if they try to go to college, especially a university rather than a trade school, they’re going to have trouble. Dropping out is more likely for them.”
The National Dropout Prevention Center targets students at the high school level because that’s where the problem typically develops.
“We have to always ask ourselves one question,” said Addis. “Is the point of getting out of high school going to college or becoming a functioning adult for the economy? We prepare students to be functioning adults first. They can choose if they go to college or work later.”
Riggs agrees with Addis on the importance of being prepared for classes at a university level.
“My emotions during high school were dark,” said Riggs. “But in college, I was also in a dark place mentally. On top of that, the workload is even harder in college, and I wasn’t ready. I will never be ready, and I told myself that.”
Soon after having that realization, she sent in her exit forms to officially withdraw from Huntington University. Because they knew she was struggling, her family did their best to support her every step of the way. They did not encourage her to drop out, but they understood why she wanted to.
One of the hardest parts about leaving the university was telling her friends and floormates.
“None of them wanted me to leave, but they were nice about it,” said Riggs. “I had a few friendships turn to crap after the reveal that I was leaving, but that just happens.”
Riggs never held any hard feelings towards her friends at the university. Everybody, she said, was only concerned about her future plans once she returned home.
But she did not leave Huntington blindly. Living arrangements and a job interview were scheduled before she started packing for her departure.
“I needed a plan of action, at least for the first couple months,” said Riggs. “Although I’m no longer scared about failing classes, I was scared about making sure I have enough money for my kiddo.”
Riggs is now working as a freelance model, living in her own apartment, and serving as a two-time mother to her cat Kibby and son Lucius. Giving birth to him was the second hardest experience she’s been through apart from leaving college, but she wouldn’t trade her life now for another chance at HU.
“I don’t want to go back,” said Riggs. “But I’m okay with my story being shared. I would have been nervous before, but I think it’s important to share now. Someone out there might need to hear it.”
She is planning to look into trade schools to finish her education.
“I learned the hard way that a liberal arts education isn’t a good fit for me,” said Riggs. “But I have my kiddo now, and no big college class could match up with that.”