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Province to study why post-secondary students aren’t finishing programs

WATCH ABOVE: The Ministry of Advanced Education is looking to survey post-secondary drops outs in an effort to better retain students.

Post-secondary students are about to begin the fall semester, but not all of the students that were around in the spring will be returning. These are the students the Ministry of Advanced Education wants to talk with for an upcoming study.

Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor said they want to understand why students are choosing to leave an institution before finishing their program, and better identify potential barriers to completion.

“If there are other things that we could be doing that would enable those, or to help those students, make the right interventions at the right time that would allow them to complete we need to know that information, and it seems right now we don’t have a good grasp of that,” Beaudry-Mellor said.

The study is expected to be performed through a phone and online survey of those who enrolled in post-secondary, but did not complete their program. The province is currently reviewing tender applications for who will run the survey.

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The survey will focus on six areas: demographics of students, challenges faced during the program, financing, reasons for leaving, overall satisfaction and post-leaving outcome.

READ MORE: Enrolment, graduation and double digit tuition increases: 5 year growth at Sask. universities

Saskatchewan Polytechnic has been conducting similar interview with departing students whenever possible for the past six years.

Polytech strategy and business development vice-president Dennis Johnson said they have seen the student retention rate remain steady in this timeframe; around 82 per cent.

“We have them complete a questionnaire, and the reasons typically fall into three categories: personal reasons, academic or financial,” Johnson said.

“We have been recognizing the range of reasons why a student may face difficulty. We do our best to mitigate those,” he added.

This includes academic advising, counselling, financial aide and other measures offered by Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

These challenges fall in line with what students at the University of Regina told Global News.

“The major thing, I believe it is, is the economy. Just how it’s changed and all that, it costs more. It’s all about money and can students afford this?” third-year film student Scott Johnson said.

“Kids going in now, they don’t really have the hope that yesteryear had, so it’s kind of daunting.”

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“Going into first year of university, I think in high school we’re kind of not extremely prepared for what’s about to come,” second-year business administration student Andriy Tkach said.

“Because it seems easier, because there are less classes for shorter periods of time, but on the other hand the workload is way bigger.”

Both students know former peers who dropped out. The reasons range from academic pressures, to finances, to deciding university just wasn’t the right fit for them.

The University of Regina is compiling a list of students enrolled in the 2015/16 school year that did not graduate or return for the 2016/17 school year. A U of R representative said they are not generally aware of when a student leaves a program. They do not routinely follow-up directly with students after they stop registering for classes.

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The University of Saskatchewan does not survey students that leave without completing a credential. They do track the retention rate of first and second-year students in direct entry programs. In the 2017/18 school year 87 per cent of these students returned for their second year.

Once the study is complete at yet a to be determined date, Beaudry-Mellor said the data will be used in an attempt to develop better policy to help student retention.

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One area is with First Nations, Metis and Inuit enrolment and completion rates. Last year around 5,400 students enrolled in post-secondary but only 1,700 received completed programs.

“That’s certainly one thing we want to understand is why are Indigenous students not completing, even though they are enrolling. It seems we have the recruitment piece down, but we don’t have the retention piece down,”

In 2013, around 4,000 First Nation, Metis and Inuit students enrolled and about 1,100 completed programs.

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