A framework for understanding student drop-out in the further education context
This research represents a systematic investigation and analysis of student drop-out in a college of Further Education. Traditionally, this aspect of post-compulsory education has been under-researched. Colleges are beginning to recognise the benefits of curriculum research. While there remains a certain amount of hostility towards such non-traditional activity, such research resistance, in its institutional context forms part of the discussion within the thesis. Student drop-out has been defined as premature withdrawal from a course of study. The investigation focused on the experiences of drop-outs while they attended college, their school history, their family relationships and their personal explanations for leaving College. A multiple strategy method (loose triangulation) was used to gather information about drop-outs and these data were analysed both quantitatively and qualitatively. Further Education, and especially the recent changes brought about by 'incorporation' of Colleges under the aegis of 'market forces' has formed the context for the research field. The research identified several significant factors relative to student retention. The most significant being the mismatch between the prior expectations of prospective students with the reality encountered once their course commences. Other barriers to successful completion were also identified, the most significant of which was the attitude of teachers at the drop-out's previous school. Family relationships were also found to be instrumental in student completion. Four types of drop-out have been identified: 1. the early drop-out, who enroled on the wrong course, 2. the opportunist drop-out, who came to College because they had nothing better to do at the time, 3. the consumer drop-out, who buys a course (usually skills based) and leaves when they are satisfied that they have learnt enough, 4. the life crisis drop-out, who is the victim of accident, ill health or misfortune. The empirical evidence collected during this research contradicts the commonly accepted view that drop-outs are a 'drain' on society. It is shown that the word 'drop-out' has developed a power of its own and is employed in the social control of students. The research concludes that student retention can be improved and course completion rates increase. When monitoring procedures adequately reflect the real number of students dropping out, coupled with prevention methods which recognise the need for better preenrolment guidance, and meaningful intervention to reclaim these lost students and redirect their studies, drop-out could become a phenomenon of the past.