Students ‘need info and prep’ to curb fresher dropout rates

Date Uploaded: 28/04/2017

More access to information about courses and a less-rushed start to college after students get their Leaving Certificate results could help reduce dropout rates, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) said.

It was responding to latest Higher Education Authority (HEA) figures that show, despite some improvements, nearly one-in-six students did not progress to the second year of college courses they began in 2012.

Among the 6,000-plus who dropped out, levels of non-progression were highest at institutes of technology, many of which had one-in-four students failing to make it to second year.

USI deputy president Jack Leahy said more supports should be made available to guidance counsellors in schools to support students making the transition to third level.

He said research by USI and the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education showed that the adequacy of prior information was the most significant trigger for students withdrawing from courses.

“Students were telling us that, even though they may have attended open days and studied prospectuses, the course they were studying was often quite far from what they had expected. This can relate to course content, teaching hours, job prospects and other information,” said Mr Leahy.

A further issue, he said, was students’ unpreparedness to move from school to college.

“There is an extraordinarily short period between a student accepting a CAO offer and the start of third-level. In a space of two weeks, teenagers are expected to move out of home for the first time and become independent,” he said.

The difficulties of finding affordable accommodation are also making it even tougher for students to make a smooth transition.

USI is calling for a “second chance” option to allow students who drop out during first year to begin another course in a subsequent year without losing access to free tuition. The window for students to do so is very short, meaning a student can only retain their eligibility to free tuition if they leave within weeks of their course starting at some colleges.

“Individual institutions should consider how their procedures for internal course transfer can encourage students to identify and access a more suitable programme for them,” said Mr Leahy.

The HEA report showed that courses with the highest dropout rates were those in engineering, computer science and construction-related disciplines at institutes of technology. At some colleges, between one-third and 43% of students were not reaching second year of such courses, although initiatives to mentor and support students has been leading to some improvements.

The restoration of ring-fenced guidance counselling hours from September was welcomed yesterday by Fr Paul Connell, president of the Joint Managerial Body which represents boards of 380 religious-owned secondary schools.


Journalist: Niall Murray

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