Taking Notes: Eye on Education – University Dropouts

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org


One of the most disturbing articles I’ve read in a while was entitled, “too many dropping out of university” (Edmonton Journal, May 31, 2004). It referred to a new University of Manitoba study that found graduation rates have fallen to below 70 per cent in some university programs.

Researcher Rodney Clifton has been studying retention rates for some time, and he indicates that greater support for students, particularly in their first year, is needed. Students in the study reported that a lack of academic control, level of pride and hope regarding academic performance and negative emotions, all influenced academic achievement.

Retention rates for first year students ranged from 63.5 percent at Brandon University to 95 percent at the University of Toronto, and varied from program to program. The University of Ottawa had completion rates for humanities at 70.4 percent, engineering 66.5 percent, physical sciences 63.4 percent and computer science, 62.2 percent. At many universities there was a clear trend downward. Arts students at the University of British Columbia for example, went from a 76.4 percent completion rate in 1994 to a 72.8 percent completion only two years later.

Students are also taking longer to achieve degrees, with the University of Toronto reporting 82.4 percent of undergraduate students who started in 1994 completing their degrees in seven years, and the University of Victoria showing a 70 percent completion rate for the same period.

Athabasca University is concerned with retention rates as well, although these are measured differently due to the open nature of the university. Given the importance of a university degree to future career success, it seems apparent that universities have some work to do to improve retention rates. It is not enough to improve accessibility and get students into university – we need to keep them there long enough to graduate!

Too Many dropping out of university – Report. May 31, 2004, Sarah Schmidt, CanWest news service: http://www.canada.com/edmonton/edmontonjournal/news/story.html?id=4cd3cd6e-2266-41e3-9305-7acd446cb072

Fund Success, Not seats in Lecture Halls, Sept 30, 2003: