The Solution to Student Dropout Rates

Student dropout rates cause serious concern for society and higher-education institutions. A 1993 study showed 40% of students leave without receiving a degree and 75% of those drop out within the first two years of college (Tinto, 1993). This has shown little improvement over time. In 2013 only 59% of students of students graduated within 6 years of beginning a 4 year degree (NCES, 2014). This should be a real concern for higher-education institutes as studies show students are several times more expensive to win back than retain (Joseph et al., 2005).


Students who stop studying, according to Keaveney and Young (1997), are either not committed to the university or to their degree. Researchers discoverd this was the result of no satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the college experience. Studies found that course content and faculty support were the main driving factors to student satisfaction (DeShields, Kara & Kaynak, 2005).

Higher-education is increasingly being recognized as a service industry. By placing a service lens on this phenomena we can determine student satisfaction is derived from expectation (Swan & Combs, 1976). While student expectations may differ from institution to institution; there is still the overarching expectation from all students that higher-education should improve their career prospects. This is reflected in the DeShields, Kara and Kaynak’s (2005) study which discovered factors contributing to course satisfaction were derived from real-world relevance, course scheduling and the development of skills.

In contrast to these well-understood expectations, unemployment and underemployment rates of recent graduates are significantly higher than in previous years. Approximately 44% of young college graduates in the 20-30 age range are either unemployed or underemployed (New York Fed, 2014). This means 44% of graduates are not yielding a return on the investment in their future.

To redress these issues, higher-education institutes must adopt a market-oriented approach to satisfy expectations, and therefore, reduce student dropouts. When adopting this approach, there are questions that need to be asked:

“What are employer’s looking for?”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (Forbes, 2015) outlines the three top desirable skills sought by recruiters:

1) Ability to work in a team structure

2) Ability to make decisions and solve problems

3) Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside the organization

“What are the best methodologies and methods to teach these skills?” 

Designing a course which meets student and employer expectations requires us to address the question of how to deliver content. Despite students placing value in the formal lecture, both students and instructors find it ineffective (Sanders, Stevenson, King & Coates, 2000). There are many new engaging methods for content delivery due to recent changes in technology. Teaching resources and methods of content delivery have seen dramatic change. MOOCs have risen in the form of Kahn Academy and iTunes U. Students are choosing and picking the content they’re consuming as well as getting involved with active learning practices. Increased access to knowledge and information empowers individuals to adopt a more active role (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2004). That is to say students are no longer content being passive consumers of education.

In acknowledging all of these factors; higher-education institutions are presented with a number of solutions. Each has the potential to satisfying student’s expectations and reducing student dropout rates, whilst also maintaining a high quality learning experience:

Experiential Learning: Based upon behaviourial learning theories; Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) stresses the importance of direct experience and reflective observation (Kiili, 2005). In essence, non-stop learning with a continuous learning feedback cycle which provides a basis for goal-directed action.

Examples of Experiential Learning Methods: Business Simulations, Flipped Classrooms, Role-Playing, and Reflective Work Experience.

Active Learning: A process whereby students engage in activities, such as reading, writing, discussion or problem solving activities that promote analysis, synthesis and evaluation of class content.

Examples of Active Learning Methods: Business Simulations, Flipped Classrooms, Case studies, Role-Playing, Group projects, and Peer Teaching.

In summary, student dropouts are a significant cause of concern for higher-education institutions as well as for the betterment of an educated society. To maintain student engagement, students need relevant materials aimed at improving their employability. Higher-education institutions not only need to address concerns regarding course content but how content is delivered. Traditional teaching methods are considered ineffective by both instructors and students. However, there are many alternate teaching methodologies which are proven to be effective in engaging students and also improving employability.

By Brook McFarlane.

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