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Student retention

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The scope of the problem


According to the report, Measuring Up, published in 2006 by the National Center for Public Policy in Higher Education, while the USA is one of the leading countries for college participation (35 per cent) it nevertheless ranks in the bottom half (16th among 27 countries compared) when it comes to completion, trailing behind Japan, Australia, Korea, the United Kingdom and Poland.

This report also showed that even in the best-performing States,

"only 65% of first-year community college students return for their second year, and only 67% of students at four-year institutions complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrolling" (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2006).

According to Alan Seidman, director of the US-based Center for the Study of College Student Retention, retention has been a major issue since the 1970s, but despite a considerable amount of money spent and programmes developed, things have got little better.

In the UK, a recent report from the UK Parliament Select Committee on Public Accounts showed that while college participation stood at 43 per cent (a 3 per cent increase on 2001/2002), around 28,000 full-time and 87,000 part-time students who started first degree courses in 2004-2005 were no longer in higher education a year later. Of the full-time students, 91.6 per cent entered their second year of study, while only 78.1 per cent were expected to complete (Committee of Public Accounts, 2001-2002).

Things can be even worse in less developed countries. In South Africa the Human Sciences Research Council’s Student Pathways study of 34,000 students in seven tertiary institutions showed a dropout rate of an astonishing 60 per cent. One of the report’s authors claimed that the main reason was finance – 70 per cent of the respondents came from very poor families (reported in The Times of South Africa, February 24 2008).

To have a large number of students dropping out of higher education is obviously bad for the students, the organizations and the public purse that supports them. Why do so many students fail to complete?