Unpacking the student persistence problem - Macleans.ca

Unpacking the student persistence problem

Only about 10% of students leave PSE without credential


I rounded off my recent trip to Western Europe by attending the International Conference on Education, Economy and Society in Paris last week. In addition to giving a presentation with a colleague, I had an excellent opportunity to discuss post-secondary participation and access research with Dr. Ross Finnie of the University of Ottawa and Statistics Canada’s Marc Frenette.

Finnie and Frenette presented on three different papers that are emerging from their somewhat similar research programs. Finnie gave a very interesting overview of a project that tracked the enrolment patterns of post-secondary students over a five-year period. The report of Finnie’s study, co-authored with Theresa Qiu of Statistics Canada, was actually leaked to The Globe and Mail earlier this month. (Access to the story is now, oddly, blocked by a padlock).

This piece of research is especially important because many previous Canadian studies of early student withdrawal, including one of my own, have reported rates of student attrition of 30 to 50 percent. Many of these student persistence studies have been limited by their inability to track students’ progression through multiple years, programs and/or institutions.

After accounting for students who stop-out and switch programs, Finnie shows that only about 10 percent of students leave the post-secondary system without a credential, which is far lower than one might anticipate from the results of earlier works.


Unpacking the student persistence problem

  1. Dale, You will be able to find the G&M article in Canadian Newsstand. A lot of students complain of strange advice from their high schools about their choices for universities.

    What we have is a simple two-fold problem that could be corrected. Instead of universities tacitly accepting the perpetuation of high school incoherence into their first year programs (increasingly, students insist on still feeling that they are in high school for years of university), through their faculties of education and through the provincial ministries, the universities should require the schools to introduce grade 12 programs that would orient students to university-style thinking. If some students were not interested in the project, that would not prevent them from graduating, if they worked reasonably hard, but society cannot tolerate the worsening lingering of junior high into grade 12, and then on into university.

    Given that education is supposed to teach perception, it is amazing that the increasing inertia and lack of realism in high school is being allowed steadily to erode competence in university. Evidently, nobody much cares.

    One of the real weaknesses in education is poor information management. How do I get back into that story? How do I keep the information straight in my head? How do I understand the implications of the information? In high school, it just does not happen. You are on the information treadmill, and that’s it.

  2. Hi Dale,

    Nice to see you on the Maclean’s site. You make an important point about the importance of data that can properly track students through their post-secondary education. One minor correction to note – the 10% “drop-out” figure you cite is not for all post-secondary students, but for those at a university. The equivalent figure for college students is 18%.

  3. Thanks for the note Joseph. Any idea when the full paper will be released?