Leaving Cert grades linked to finishing college

Students with higher Leaving grades and CAO points are significantly more likely to complete higher education than those with lower grades, according to a new report from the Higher Education Authority.

The study, which tracked 34,059 full-time undergraduate students who entered Irish universities, institutes of technology and colleges in 2007 across ten years, found that the lowest completion rates were in computing courses, where 45% of students dropped out.

This was followed by engineering, manufacturing and construction courses where a third of students did not finish their studies.

The figures come at a time when both industry and the Government are encouraging a higher take-up of science, technology, engineering and maths courses, and are likely to raise concerns that some students do not have the aptitude for these areas of study.

The highest completion rates were in education and health & welfare courses where, respectively, only 9% and 16% of students dropped out. Humanities & arts and business & law courses had a 23% drop-out rate.

The study found that drop-out rates are significantly higher in institutes of technology than in universities or colleges, while females are significantly more likely than males to complete their courses.

The figures show that the single biggest factor in whether or not a student completes third-level is the number of CAO points that they secure in the Leaving Certificate.

Only 57% of students with 205-250 CAO points complete third-level, compared with 66% of those on 305 to 350 points, 85% of those on 405 to 450 points and 95% of those on 505 to 550 points. 

Students with higher grades in maths and English also fare better at third-level and are less likely to drop out, irrespective of whether their course contains significant elements of maths or literacy.

Male students outnumber females on level six and seven courses, which tend to have lower CAO points requirements than level eight courses, where females outnumber males and CAO points requirements tend to be higher.

UCC has the third lowest dropout rate at 16%, compared to 15.4% in Trinity College, 15.3% at University of Limerick and 20.3% at Dublin City University. 

At Cork IT, one third of all students dropped out, compared to a 34% average drop-out rate across all IoTs. 9% of students dropped out of first year at UCC.

Students from fee-paying schools have the highest completion rate at 76%, compared with 72% for students from standard schools and 65% for those from disadvantaged schools.

However, disadvantaged students on a selection of high-points courses performed just as well as their peers, so this may be accounted for by the fact that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to secure lower CAO points.

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