On Campus

Unpacking the student persistence problem

Only about 10% of students leave PSE without credential

I rounded off my recent trip to Western Europe by attending the International Conference on Education, Economy and Society in Paris last week. In addition to giving a presentation with a colleague, I had an excellent opportunity to discuss post-secondary participation and access research with Dr. Ross Finnie of the University of Ottawa and Statistics Canada’s Marc Frenette.

Finnie and Frenette presented on three different papers that are emerging from their somewhat similar research programs. Finnie gave a very interesting overview of a project that tracked the enrolment patterns of post-secondary students over a five-year period. The report of Finnie’s study, co-authored with Theresa Qiu of Statistics Canada, was actually leaked to The Globe and Mail earlier this month. (Access to the story is now, oddly, blocked by a padlock).

This piece of research is especially important because many previous Canadian studies of early student withdrawal, including one of my own, have reported rates of student attrition of 30 to 50 percent. Many of these student persistence studies have been limited by their inability to track students’ progression through multiple years, programs and/or institutions.

After accounting for students who stop-out and switch programs, Finnie shows that only about 10 percent of students leave the post-secondary system without a credential, which is far lower than one might anticipate from the results of earlier works.

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