Friday, October 29, 2010

College drop outs - failures? What about Bill Gates?

I almost dropped out of College in 1980 having failed my second year  - but my Dad persuaded me to give it another go and repeat the year - I never looked back.

John Walshe writes in today's Irish Independent  that "Colleges will face penalties if they don't tackle drop-out rates". This follows a HEA report (published yesterday) on "Progression in Irish Higher Education 2010". In the report there is a lot of evidence of high dropout rates in first year programmes in Universities, Institutes of Technology, and some other higher level colleges (not including NCI). 

Non-Progression Odds by Field of Study
(HEA Report)
The highest dropout rates were reported in computer science courses, where students experience "a relative risk of dropout of 1.7 times higher than their counterparts in social science, arts and law". Lowest drop-out rates occurred in education and healthcare courses.

The HEA report makes for interesting reading - it takes into account Leaving Cert results, Maths ability, and socio-economic background when examining the results of its research.

Naturally there is concern over the cost of public funding for students who drop out of College. There is no doubt that this money could be spent elsewhere. Students drop out of College for many reasons - most of course because they fail their exams. Many choose to drop out themselves - the course does not suit them, they got a better offer somewhere else, they hate maths, a job offers money - lots of reasons. Some choose to not study and miss continuous assessments, and still hope to get through. We in the Colleges can't make students study, we can't force them into the library, we can't force them to learn. We can teach them, provide facilities, hopefully present good courses, etc. But in the end each student is responsible for his/her own learning. All Colleges (including NCI) have practices in place to support vulnerable students who are most likely to drop out - but in the end there is only so much we can do.

Back to John Walshe's article - he writes:

"Under a new funding system, colleges will receive reduced 'core' grants from the Exchequer. They will then be offered financial 'incentives' to meet targets in areas such as the retention of students, the rate of course completion, increasing access to college, teaching standards and research. If they fail to meet these targets, they will face financial penalties".

Penalizing Colleges for student dropouts is a ridiculous idea IMHO. A dropped out student penalizes a College already as the College has spent money educating them, and will lose out on future fees. We are all trying hard to provide a good education for our students, but the message seems to be "Try harder, or else".

Of course a student who drops out of College may go on to greater things. Check out this list of Billionaire College Dropouts which includes, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Ralph Lauren, Steve Jobs, and Michael Dell. 

College dropouts!
Just think - I might have ended up a billionaire if I had have dropped out of College back in 1980!

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