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Foto: Maartje Strijbis (UvA)

Student dropout rate varies greatly by institution, Inspectorate observes

Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau,
17 april 2024 - 16:41

It matters where you go to college. At some colleges and universities, first-year students drop out more often than at others, according to The State of Education 2024. “Institutions can learn more from each other.”

Surviving the first year of study works better at some programs than others. The differences are still noticeable even when you take into account the characteristics of the students or the area they are studying in, writes the Education Inspectorate.
“Institutions should not be content with this and should check with each other to determine where these differences come from and what approach to reduce dropout works well,” the new report states.
Sizeable differences
And the differences are sizeable. Among technical programs in higher education, about 12 percent of students get stuck in the first year, but at one (unnamed) institution it is 25 percent, and at another it is less than 3 percent.
In university economics programs, the first-year dropout rate is usually 5 to 7 percent, but there is also one university that leaves roughly 17 percent of its first-year students behind.

“Universities and colleges still seem insufficiently mindful of equity”

So students already have unequal opportunities right from the start, not only because of their personal circumstances but also because of the quality of their education. Universities and colleges should do a better job of figuring out what the reason is behind these dropouts.
The Education Inspectorate has more questions. For example, why is a quarter of master’s programs inaccessible after a bachelor’s degree?
Blind spot
The “decentralized selection” of students for admission to programs also remains a problem. Equality of opportunity remains a “blind spot.” Selection still leads to lower opportunities for certain groups of students, according to Acting Inspector General of Education Ria Westendorp and Higher Education Inspector Susanne Rijken.
What do you expect universities and colleges to do with all this criticism?
Westendorp: “They have to take it into account in their policies. Administrators often focus on yield or quality, but they also have to consider equity. It requires conscious choices because sometimes there are conflicting realities.”

“We have said to the minister before: Make clear what the purpose of selection is”

So what realities clash?
Westendorp: “If many students graduate with good grades, you might think you are providing a good education. But maybe you should give a chance more often to students who are qualified, but probably don’t get such good grades. We don’t think it’s a lack of will, but universities and colleges still don’t seem to be paying enough attention to equality of opportunity.”
You have pointed this out before, for example, in your report on selection.
Westendorp: “Yes, and politics also plays a role in this. We have said to the minister before: Make clear what the purpose of selection is. Do we want a diverse professional population or do we only want to pick out the very best students? This also involves politics.”
According to you, the quality inspection of higher education programs (“accreditation”) is in order. How is that possible if the dropout rate in some programs is so high?
Rijken: “We do indeed see differences, even between similar institutions, so they could learn more from each other. But you can’t link a passing grade for accreditation one-to-one to the dropout rate. It could also be that some programs have been called to account during the accreditation process and informed that they must take measures, for example.”
The dropout rate is also due to binding study advice (BSA), which researchers have called into question. Many students then go study somewhere else, often in the same program, too. In your view, does the BSA make sense?
Westendorp: “We don’t know enough about that. Of course, you can admit large groups of students and say at the end of the year that those who don’t have 60 points will be dropped. Then you can also ask yourself if that’s a good idea. In any case, we see big differences and that seems to us to be a reason to look deeper, including at the trade-offs. The minister has proposed to reduce the BSA to 30 points in the first year and then to at least 30 points in the second. This is especially with student welfare in mind.”
You might also deem that some programs neglect their duty of care, given their BSA and high dropout rates. Why don’t you do that?
Rijken: “To do that we would have to have a good justification and we don’t know enough yet. Equality of opportunity involves a lot, from student welfare to the system of financing. Do you want to help all those students cross the finish line as quickly as possible or do you let other interests prevail? We could explore all sorts of things, but we also have limited options.”

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