Posted tagged ‘non-completion’

The problem of university drop-outs

October 12, 2010

In both Britain and Ireland we have prided ourselves on relatively low student drop-out rates; in other words, the percentage of first year entrants into higher education who do not complete their programme of study successfully is low by international standards. Indeed in Britain the drop-out rate has dropped substantially over the past ten years or so and now stands at just over 7 per cent (though admittedly at 9 per cent in Scotland). The figure in Ireland is thought to be higher, but in other countries non-completion figures of well over 25 per cent are not uncommon. In Europe the more extreme levels of drop-out may be reduced by the Bologna framework of higher education.

But whatever the figure may be, if it is substantially higher than zero it is not acceptable. This is so because of the wasted opportunities and human potential represented by a drop-out, and because of the very substantial cost involved. In the United States it has been estimated that the cost to the taxpayer of student non-completion runs into billions of dollars. A student who drops out vacates a place that can, for the remainder of the time they should have been there, not be re-filled, and the money spent on them before they leave is wasted.

The problem is that student attrition may now be exacerbated by demographic and other developments, some of which have created a trend of non-attendance by students at lectures and classes (which in turn is known to contribute to non-completion). While the problem is well recognised across the higher education system, there is no sure method of addressing it. Different institutions, and indeed different departments within institutions, have tried various ways of addressing attrition, but there is no overall coordinated strategy for this. The time for such a strategy may now have come.

One key ingredient in handling non-completion is maintaining as close a contact as possible with individual students. Students who feel insecure or are struggling will often fall away if nobody is seen to be taking any direct interest in them, or indeed if their performance is not closely monitored. Equally we must be aware that as resources become scarcer and scarcer the capacity of institutions to maintain that kind of contact with students is diminished, and attrition is likely to grow. Another reason for looking again at the funding and resourcing of higher education.