Thirteen out of every hundred university students leave their studies without graduating

Students at the Polytechnic University of Valencia. / D. Torres

Most drop out in the first year and the determining factors are academic failure and lack of family money

Alfonso Torres

Thirteen out of every hundred young Spaniards who start a degree drop out of university without having graduated in that career or in any other. Most do so already in the first year and the reasons for leaving, which are almost always heterogeneous and multiple, have academic failure and the student's family's lack of money as fundamental elements.

These are the main conclusions of a monographic study carried out by María Fernández Mellizo-Soto, sociologist and professor at the Faculty of Education of the Complutense University of Madrid, who was commissioned by the former Minister of Universities, Manuel Castells.

This ministry, which is currently drafting a new university law, wanted to know how many students drop out of higher education in Spain, for what reasons and what measures could be taken to minimize a phenomenon that squanders hundreds of millions of public coffers every year and that prevents many Spaniards from improving their training and using campuses as a social lift.

Experts call for reinforcement programs for risk profiles from the beginning of the career, cheaper tuition and higher scholarships for low incomes

The radiography only includes Spanish students, under 30 years of age and who left their studies after enrolling in one of the face-to-face universities in the country. Specifically, it monitors the academic evolution of the 240,500 young people who enrolled as first in the 2015-16 academic year, of which 31,265 dropped out before graduating. According to the ministry, this rate of resignation, 13%, places Spain in a situation similar to that of other developed countries.

The analysis reveals two major features in the phenomenon of dropout on Spanish campuses. The most critical moment is the first year, when more than half of those who end up dropping out leave it, and the reasons that explain most of the dropouts are personal. The weight of the obstacles linked to the type of career or the university in which it is studied are minimal.

The element that causes the most dropouts is poor academic results in the first year, which also causes even more dropouts in degrees with higher enrollment rates and among older students with academic failure.

The highest dropout rates occur in double degrees, Arts and Humanities studies, on large campuses and in the Balearic and Canary Islands

The second group of personal factors are linked to social vulnerability. The lower the family income, the higher the dropouts. These students, who usually coincide with those who come from public institutes, cannot afford to have mediocre grades. Specifically, the weakest link is the group of the poorest scholarship recipients, in which case they are often forced to drop out even with good grades.

The type of studies is not decisive, but more dropouts have been detected among double degree students and among Arts and Humanities careers, with Health Sciences students having the lowest percentage of resignations. The factors linked to the university in which it is studied are the least relevant, but even so, the highest dropout rates occur in the Balearic and Canary Islands -with strong seasonal tourist employment- and in the most populous institutions. What is not observed are differences between public and private campuses.

The experts, in view of the obstacles, propose a battery of measures to reverse the situation, which begins by demanding that all faculties, schools and teachers focus all their attention on student performance during the first year, where they must turn on and all the alarms.

The magnifying glass from the first

They ask the ministry, ministries and universities for both academic and economic reinforcements with a focus on the risk group: students, with economic vulnerability, with low grade admission grades and, especially, the older ones. In the academic area, they propose to monitor them and help with mentoring, tutoring and guidance services. And, economically, increase aid in the event of poor early performance. They request a decrease in the price of tuition and an increase in aid for the most vulnerable scholarship holders, to prevent them from having to leave school because their family needs them to go to work.

In this sense, the authors clarify that, due to the period of analysis, they do not take into account the actions already taken by the current Government, especially in the last two years, which have been able to improve the situation described. The ministry promoted a drop in fees from 2020, which can accumulate an average cut of 30% next year, has increased the allocation in scholarships by 45% and next year students will know for the first time if they will have help before enrolling.

The report, however, does not include students from distance and 'online' universities, despite the fact that they are the ones with the highest rate of withdrawals, nor does it take into account the change of campus or the change of degree, estimated in Spain in 8% of those enrolled in the first year, despite the fact that it represents a high waste of public resources. Nor does it calculate how much this abandonment of racing costs the public coffers. An analysis sponsored three years ago by BBVA, which in addition to the costs of abandonment included those of changing grades, estimated the waste of public resources at around 680 million annually.

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