Should students be told about their likelihood of dropping out of university?
Leave or stay in university? Whatever it is, students should get as much information as possible. Source: Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Australian think-tank Grattan Institute is recommending the government to assess and tell students upfront about their likelihood of dropping out of university.

It’s a relatively easy event to see coming, especially if one looks at indicators such as their age and  whether they are part-time or full-time students, according to their report published today.

The government’s student website Quality Indicators for Teaching and Learning should include “personalised information about the risk of not completing a degree” and how to reduce that risk, the report by higher education program director Andrew Norton and fellow Ittima Cherastidtham advised.

They should advise students on census date using text messages instead of emails, so that such information on how they can withdraw from university without incurring fees reach their necessary audience.

Working while studying might sound like killing two birds with one stone, but this report found part-time study is the biggest cause for dropping out of university. Source: Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

It should also include information to part-time students about the maximum time allowed for them to complete their course and a clear guidance on how they can get there.

“With better advice, some prospective part-time students may opt to study full-time,” the authors said.

“Some prospective university students would take a vocational education course instead. Some may not study at all, but look for a job instead.”

For the report, researchers developed a model to use factors – such as area of study, admission marks, age, sex nationality, etc. – to predict how likely it is for a student to drop out. Part-time study is the biggest indicator of risk, it found.

Studying on campus with a full load of subjects was found to more than double a students’ chances of completing his or her course, as compared to studying part-time which only gives one a 50/50 chance to complete university.

A non-Indigenous male who moved from remote Australia to the city to study four subjects a year off-campus has a 72 percent chance of dropping out within eight years. Taking the full load of subjects and staying on-campus cuts his chances of failing to just 32 percent.

More information, better decisions

While dropping out can sound ominous in a society that is degree-obsessed, the Grattan Institute said quitting university can bring its own set of benefits. It  “is not always a bad outcome” and a significant chunk of students may even be able to avoid taking up big study loans only to regret being so indebted in future.

Speaking to The GuardianUniversities Australia’s deputy chief executive Catriona Jackson, agrees leaving a course isn’t a straightforward negative thing.

“Students must be supported to make good choices but sometimes the best choice is to leave,” she said.

“The factors that cause non-completion are complex and often beyond the control of students and their universities – including everything from health problems and financial difficulties to the challenges of juggling work, study and family life.

“The key is good information for students. Universities Australia supports any efforts that would help students to make the best decision they can.”

A survey of 950 students who dropped out of university showed nearly 40 percent would not enrol in their degree had they known what they did now. About one in three said they did not benefit from their course.

“These students do not get value for time and money. Australia should do more to manage the risks and costs of enrolment.”

Hence, the idea of giving students an upfront assessment of their likelihood to complete university is a valid idea worth giving serious consideration.

International students and their own unique set of concerns would highly benefit from this too. More information upfront means more time for them to make necessary preparations regarding their visas and finances, or to consider switching to more viable education pathways they’ve not considered before, such as vocational and educational training (VET) courses.

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