Muskens: Study delves into why students leave university or college

Recently, the provincial government published a paper titled Without a Trace, which looked at students who left a college or university and didn’t return.

Recently, the provincial government published a paper titled Without a Trace, which looked at students who left a college or university and didn’t return.

The report included surveying 5,036 former students who left a B.C. post-secondary institution in 2009 and have yet to re-enrol.

Some of the most interesting data from this report focused on the type of student who left and explored a number of variables.

More women exited a B.C. post-secondary institution than their male counterparts, by a margin of 14 per cent.

Forty-four per cent of the leavers were from colleges and institutes, 56 per cent were from B.C. universities.

The median age of the students leaving was 26 years.

Seventy-one per cent of the students who left had less than 30 credits.

This means that these students were most likely in first-year as most programs define one year as 30 credits.

The report also classified these students as happy and unhappy leavers.

Happy leavers were those who stayed as long as they had planned or who felt they had met their goal.

On the flip side, unhappy leavers didn’t feel they had met their goal and left before they had planned to.

Separating the leavers in these two distinct groups allowed the researchers to see if differences existed.

For example, 80 per cent of leavers said the college or university they left was their first choice at the time of enrolment.

The reason they decided on that one school varied between the happy and unhappy leavers.

Happy leavers based their decision on the school’s reputation and the programs they offered.

Yet unhappy leavers tended to pick their school based on location and having friends who were enrolled at the same place.

When it came to services, happy leavers rated program advising as high while the unhappy leavers had problems with advising.

Happy leavers enjoyed their courses and felt a sense of belonging, whereas unhappy leavers tended to rate some of their courses as poor quality and didn’t get the same sense of being part of the campus community.

On the whole, both groups said the quality of instruction was good and overall they were satisfied with the education they received.

So why did they leave?

To help colleges and universities find better ways to keep students, the survey only asked the unhappy leavers this question.

The number one reason the unhappy students left was because of personal circumstances.

I see this often in my job where a student will request a withdrawal due to medical or family issues.

The reason they are dropping out has nothing to do with school; it has more to do with them not being able to cope with other life issues and juggle school at the same time.

The other top four reasons were a change of plans regarding the program and getting a job in that field, disappointment with the institution, and financial issues.

Other reasons were lost motivation, disappointment with grades or failure in a program, they got a job or their job situation changed, school wasn’t convenient (this could be getting to and from school or class scheduling conflicting with work or family obligations), and they had met their goal and completed all the courses they wanted.

This last one is interesting, because most of us think if a person is going to enrol in a program they plan on getting a credential.

But the data from this report tells us that not all students who go to a college or university plan on completing a credential.

Many leavers were happy with the education they received and did feel they had met their goals.

For those of us who work in post-secondary education and for parents of high school students, this report shows us that for some students, once they receive the knowledge they are looking for in the classroom, they may consider themselves ready to move on.

A follow-up study with these leavers would probably be a good idea.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this group regularly moved in and out of post-secondary education.

Jane Muskens is Okanagan College’s registrar.



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