Tech courses are toughest to finish in college
Females students have much higher completion rates, Higher Education Authority report finds
Technology and computing courses are proving to be the hardest to complete in college, a major new study has found.
The report from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) also found that females had significantly higher completion of third-level courses than males. And first year is key – with almost two thirds of those who don’t graduate dropping out at that stage.
At a time when the economy is crying out for technology graduates, the findings expose serious weaknesses in the education system.
The high drop-out rate from technology courses is often attributed to students struggling with the maths standards required.
An average of 45pc of students in these courses do not finish, the report found. The study also reveals that CAO points are the best predictor of a future graduate and four in every five students in Ireland complete their degree.
Leaving Cert performance is more important than factors such as family background, type of school attended and gender when it comes to determining a student’s chances of finishing college.
The HEA describes this as “the most striking finding” of its 10-year study.
The report tracked 34,089 undergraduates from first year until graduation – or not.
Interesting insights in the report include how while students from disadvantaged backgrounds have lower average completion rates - 30pc compared with 25pc for affluent students - if they are on a high points course, they are slightly more likely to finish than a well-off student.
The HEA's Analysis of Completion in Irish Higher Education covers a period from 2007/08 to 2016, to allow for students who switched courses within the same college, or took time out, and the outcomes compare well internationally.
According to the HEA, graduation figures have remained consistent in the past 15 years, even as participation rates in higher education have increased dramatically.
Previous research has looked at the number of students who don't progress to second year, but this is the first analysis of completion rates, and across higher education - universities, institutes of technology and other colleges.
Areas of concern include the 62pc of entrants to Level 7/6 courses (higher certificate/ordinary degree) in institutes of technology graduate. This is a particular problem among males, with completion rates of 59pc/58pc for these courses.
Other key findings include:
:: 76pc of students graduated within the period, with 58pc graduating on time;
:: In honours degree (Level 8) courses, 83pc of students in universities graduated, compared with 74pc in institutes of technology;
:: The highest completion rate, 94pc, was in teacher training and the National College of Art and Design;
:: The lowest completion rate - across all colleges - was computing, at an average 55pc;
:: Females had higher completion rates (81pc) than males (71pc);
:: First year is key, with 63pc of those who don't graduate dropping out at that stage.
The report authors make the point that non-completion is not a negative phenomenon for all students, but in some cases it may signal an inability to meet the academic requirements of a course.
"Therefore it is crucial that all students leaving the second-level system are fully equipped for higher education in terms of academic preparedness, knowledge and understanding of course content and the requirements of the course," they said.
It was also essential that students in need of additional support on entry to higher education were identified early and received what they need.
The study begs a number of policy responses, including getting to grips with why many students pick a course from which they drop out, within weeks or months, and a soon to be published review of career guidance, may provide some solutions.
Meanwhile, the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) is conducting a study of high non-progression rates among Level 7/6 students.
The National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education is digging deeper into why in the case of two students with similar backgrounds, one drops out and the other graduates.
HEA chief executive Paul O'Toole said while findings were "mostly positive, they required further consideration to address some of the challenges, particularly non-completion rates by males".
THEA CEO Dr Joseph Ryan welcomed the report but noted the figures did not include the full numbers of students who completed their studies in a different institution from where they started, initially, or the numbers who left to enter full-time employment.
Irish Universities Association (IUA) directer general Jim Miley said with a 17pc non-completion rate in universities "there is still more work to do".