Education News – Post-secondary drop-out rate alarming

OTTAWA (CUP) — One in seven Canadian students drops out of their post-secondary studies.

According to the Youth in Transition survey, released by Statistics Canada on Nov. 20, approximately 15 per cent of students who start post-secondary education never finish.

The survey began tracking a sample group of students aged 18 ? 20 in 1999 and followed up every two years to see how the group progressed. The study found that roughly 143,000 of the 963,000 students in the sample dropped out.

But while drop-out rates were higher than expected, so were overall participation rates.

According to the survey, by Sept. 2005, 79 per cent of the sample group had participated in some sort of post-secondary education, and university accounted for half of that.

This represents a significant jump from the 1999 post-secondary participation rate of just 54 per cent among the group.

NDP MP Denise Savoie, the party’s post-secondary education critic, had mixed feelings about the report.

?When you look at it quickly, it says that four out of five young people go to post-secondary education. That sounds really good and encouraging, and it has to be at some level. But I saw some things in [the survey] that concern me,? she said, pointing to the 17-per-cent lower participation rate among rural students than their urban counterparts.

Savoie also said that the financial burden of an education is likely a big reason for the drop-out rate.

?It really comes back to what I’ve proposed, which is the need for a needs-based grant system,? she said, pointing to finances as one of the major stumbling blocks in post-secondary education for rural students.

?Even existing grants that were put in place, like the Canada Access Grant, are insufficient. It’s only for first-year students, so the [prospect] of these huge debt loads are really problematic in many cases.?

Joel Westheimer, a Canada Research Chair in democracy and education at the University of Ottawa, pointed to post-secondary funding as a major factor in student participation.

?Decreasing federal and provincial funding for post-secondary education has obviously made it harder for most, if not all, to remain in school,? he said.

?That decrease in funding puts university administration in a difficult position where, in order to continue to give students the support they need, they have to base university increasingly on a business model instead of an educational model.?

This emerging business model of university education is bad for student culture, he said.

?Administrators are pushed more and more to treat university as training grounds and service centres modelled on business, where students are customers,? he said.

?As [education] shifts to providing a service for a fee, you lose the essence of what makes education meaningful for a lot of students. As soon as they’re not getting something that they need in terms of a training model, they drop out.?

Westheimer felt that the onus is increasingly on faculty members to push for a return to traditional educational values.

?I think that educators really need to push back at the corporatization of [the] university and make it clear to the public and legislators that education is a necessary public good,? he said, indicating that the university experience should be as important as the degree.

Savoie echoed Westheimer’s calls for a change in the way education is promoted in Canada.

?We have done nothing to create and nurture a culture of lifelong learning,? she said. ?If we think education is just about manufacturing student widgets that we can mould to fit in the economy, then we’re doing a disservice to what education should be. The federal government needs to develop a pan-Canadian strategy around lifelong learning.?

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