Date Uploaded: 14/07/2014
THOUSANDS of first-year college students who abandon their course could be making the wrong choices because of lack of guidance at school.
About 7,000 first years – one in six of those who start in third-level – don't continue into second year, according to a new study.
Some start again on a new course at a cost to them and the taxpayer, while others drop out of college altogether.
The problem is greater among boys, among students with lower CAO points, and among those attending institutes of technology.
Findings from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) study raise questions about whether school-leavers are adequately prepared for the transition to college.
HEA chairman John Hennessy said there was a need to understand why many students did not make it through. "There is increased emphasis by the colleges on support in first year but we need to ask are some students sufficiently prepared for college life?
"Do they pick the wrong course and therefore, need greater guidance at second-level?"
The report is based on a study of those who started on an undergraduate course four years ago, in the 2010/ 11 year. It is the second in a series.
The first years covered by this study left school before the cut to guidance services in 2012 and there is concern that it may contribute to more students making the wrong college choice.
The study found first-year progression rates were broadly similar to those in 2007/08. The 84pc of full-time first years in 2010/11 who progressed to second year compared with 85pc of 2007/08 entrants.
Some encouragement is taken from the fact that progression rates held up, even though increasing numbers of students from non-traditional college backgrounds have been going to third-level since the economic crash in 2008.
Among Level 8 (honours degree) students, failure to progress varied from 17pc in an institute of technology to 9pc in the universities, and 4pc in other colleges such as teacher training.
Regardless of the type of college or course level, students with lower Leaving Certificate points are less likely to progress.
The growing demand for science and computing skills has seen a surge in students enrolling for courses in these disciplines, and the study shows that more of them are also staying the pace.
However, a high proportion of computing students still don't make it to second year. Between 2007/08, and 2010/11, computing non-progression rates dropped from 35pc to 31pc at Level 6, 36pc to 34pc at Level 7 and 25pc to 23pc at level 8.
Concern continues about the number of first years on construction-related courses who don't continue.
At Level 6, engineering and construction-related courses had the highest non-progression rate at 39pc and at Level 7, they were also the highest rate at 40pc.
Meanwhile, the highest rates of progression are among profession-orientated courses such as medicine, veterinary sciences and teacher education.
While 13pc of female students did not go on to second year in 2011/12 – the same as in 2007/08 – the non-progression rate for boys grew from 17pc to 19pc.
Data gathered in these studies will be used by the HEA to identify trends with a view to tackling the problem.
The National Forum on Teaching and Learning, established by the HEA, is examining good practice at improving progression rates. Students in this study were deemed to have progressed if they are present in second year of the following academic year in their own institution.
Journalist: Katherine Donnelly