Study compares student retention rates

OTTAWA (CUP) — Recent research out of the University of Ottawa (U of O) suggests certain students are more at risk of facing obstacles than others when it comes to completing post-secondary studies.

Three studies released by the Measuring the Effectiveness of Student Aid project on Dec. 13 that compared male and female, rural and urban and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students offered several notable conclusions — including, for example, that male students are more likely than their female counterparts to drop out of college in their first or second year of studies.

Ross Finnie, associate professor at the graduate school of public and international affairs at U of O, was the lead author on the studies, which surveyed more than 10,000 students between 2007 and 2009.

“We’re identifying the sort of students that are at risk and it’s different than what people have been assuming, which is very important,” he said, noting that he was even surprised at some of the data.

Finnie explained that while educators and government have held on to their own ideas of just who the students at risk of dropping out of their studies are, this new research brings in some new information.

“Things like not having a history of education in the family is a huge determinant of access, whether or not you go to university or college,” he explained.

“But then to find once people are in, it has almost no predictive power as to whether or not they’ll continue on, that was a very interesting and important finding.”

In terms of access, one study found that students from smaller communities are more likely than their urban counterparts to have saved money on their for own school, while students from larger areas are more likely to have family members who saved tuition money for them.

Additionally, students from larger urban areas reported receiving less government aid and money from summer jobs than their rural counterparts.

Another study noted that females were more likely than males to be concerned about their collection of student debt.

In terms of dropout rates, males attending college were more likely to leave their studies in first or second year, compared to their female colleagues.

A larger gap, however, was found between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.

Deborah Loosemore is director of advancement and external relations at Algoma University, where information like this is taken to heart — and acted upon.

“[We] have developed programs that are specifically designed to assist Aboriginal students who often follow a non-traditional route to university and so come with a different set of potential barriers that they might need assistance in overcoming to be successful,” she explained, adding that about 20 per cent of Algoma students self-identify as Aboriginal, Métis, Inuit or First Nations.

“One of the things that we have been focusing on for a number of years is really increasing the retention rate from first to second year and so we’ve instituted a wide range of student services and support,” she continued.

According to Loosemore, Algoma provides a “first generation mentorship program” that matches new students with those in later years to engage in peer-to-peer support. For Aboriginal students, dedicated counselling, academic advising and cultural supports are available.

Between the 2008–09 and 2009–10 academic years, Algoma’s retention rate from first year into second year went from 73.1 per cent to 78 per cent.

Finnie says the key to this kind of success, reducing dropout rates, is to talk to students about their experiences — something that may seem to be more prominent at smaller campuses.

“Because Algoma University is one of Ontario’s smaller campuses, we’re able to reach out to students in a very personal way that is difficult on a larger campus,” said Loosemore, who explained that when the Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and
Brampton campuses are all taken into account, there are approximately 1,252 students at Algoma University.

Finnie agreed that more could be done to reach out to college and university students if universities, researchers and even the government work together — and that perhaps this recent research can help make that first step.

“If research was done in a co-ordinated fashion, we could essentially work together to direct the research to find out even more exactly the students at risk are and then, perhaps more importantly, what we can do to help them,” he offered.

“If we gather forces, we can gain more insight into what exactly is going on and then we can work together at the institutional level.”

Findings

25.2 per cent of men dropped out after their first or second year of post-secondary
eduction.

This compared to 21.5 per cent of women after first or second year.

The study found that 30.8 per cent of Aboriginal youth left post-secondary studies in first or second year.

This compares to 13 per cent of non-Aboriginal students who have done the same.

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