Third-level dropout rates are as high in some universities as institutes of technology when account is taken of differences in their student intake and other factors.
The Higher Education Authority (HEA) wants school students to get improved guidance and information after its latest analysis shows a slight improvement in progression of students to the second year of their college courses. The 14% of students who started courses in autumn 2014 but did not enter second-year a year later is down from 15% among the preceding year’s college entrants.
The HEA report shows that institutes of technology (IoTs) continue to have much higher numbers who do not make it to year two. The non-progression rates on their non-degree courses were as high as 27%, up from 25% in a year, compared to 15% on their honours (level 8) degree courses.
The numbers who did not progress on level 8 degrees at universities was 10%, down slightly from 11% in a year. Teacher education colleges have the highest retention rates, but the numbers who did not progress increased from 6% to 8%.
The HEA distinguishes between non-progression and dropout by pointing out that some students may repeat first year, change courses or leave for personal reasons with plans to return later.
Student characteristics continue to significantly influence progress, as those with higher prior educational attainment (measured using Leaving Certificate results), from better-off backgrounds, and women are more likely to progress. But when these factors are controlled, given the higher number of male students and low-points courses at IoTs, the HEA found that their non-progression rates are much closer to the universities’.
For example, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and University College Dublin (UCD) had 9% and 11% non-progression rates, respectively. But controlling for age, gender, nationality, socio-economic group, grant and free fees status, school type, course level and Leaving Certificate points, their students are more likely not to progress than those of Letterkenny and Limerick institutes of technology, whose headline progression rates were both 22%.
Joseph Ryan, chief executive of the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA), said this reflects the fact that institutes of technology attract and encourage disproportionately more of the student groups at higher risk of not progressing. The association plans to analyse student retention further to better understand the stories of the students behind the statistics, including what influences different rates in different study disciplines.
HEA chief executive Graham Love said the continuing relatively high non-progression rates on some level 6 and 7 courses in computing, engineering and construction remains a worry, despite small increases in overall proportions of students progressing to second year on all courses.
“We also need to ensure that there is adequate guidance and information at second level...We need to ask if students are picking wrong courses and how we can help ensure that they make the right choice.”
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