While overall dropout rates from 26 colleges fell slightly to 15% in the latest figures from the Higher Education Authority (HEA), courses related to construction and some disciplines at certain colleges continue to have particularly high dropout rates.
More than one-in-five students who started a course in institutes of technology (IoTs) in 2013 did not begin second year. The 21% dropout figure compares to just 11% in universities and only 6% in teacher-training colleges.
But the IoT figure masks even more alarming figures, as more than one-in-four students drop out of courses leading to higher certificate (level 6) or ordinary degree (level 7) qualifications.
Almost one-in-three students of construction or related courses at IoTs did not make it to second year, but the figure is as high as almost half for those on level 6 programmes in those disciplines.
The dropout rate for female students in all colleges is just 12%, but 19% of males do not progress beyond first year. Nearly one-third of men who take on a level 6 IoT course don’t go on to second year, but the figure for women is also very high at 18%.
A factor in the lower retention rates in IoTs is the lower entry requirements for most of their courses compared to universities, as determined by Leaving Certificate points counted by the Central Applications Office.
The HEA report shows that 32% of students with between 250 and 300 points — an average of around six higher level Ds or ordinary level Bs — dropped out of college. But the figure was just 7% for those with between 555 and the maximum 600 points available, or the 10% of students with As in six higher-level subjects.
Computer science dropout rates are among the highest, despite improving since the previous year from 20% to 16% in all colleges, and from 26% to 20% at institutes of technology.
HEA chief executive Graham Love said this was a positive result of extra funding for initiatives to help retain students, such as maths enabling courses, peer mentoring and additional tutorials for first-year computer science students.
But there are still big issues, he admitted, despite the overall figures being stable over time and comparable with competitor countries.
“Lower progression rates in key skill shortage disciplines such as construction, computer science and engineering, where mathematics content is high, remain a source of concern,” Mr Love said.
At least one-in-four new entrants at the IoTs in Blanchardstown (29%), Limerick (27%), Galway-Mayo, Letterkenny and Sligo (all 25%), dropped out during or at the end of first year.
The report also reveals:
- Children of farmers and higher-earning professionals are least likely to drop out of college, with non-progression rates of 9% and 10%, respectively.
- Students who get a grant are more likely to progress to second year, although only marginally more so than others.
- Those taking a level 6 or 7 course are 1.2 times more likely to drop out before second year.
- Dropout rates are as low as 4% in two teacher-training institutions — Mary Immaculate College, Limerick and St Patrick’s College, Dublin — and 9% at Trinity College Dublin and Mater Dei Institute, Dublin.
Mature students are more likely than others to drop out of level 8 degrees, but the opposite is true for courses leading to lower qualifications.