DIT and student retention
Research demonstrates that students partaking in certificate and
diploma courses who fail or withdraw are quite often overwhelmed
academically. There is a skills gap between Leaving Certificate
level and first-year requirements, which manifests early in the
first term: 20% of diploma/certificate students withdrew prior to
June 2002[year added in editorial process: is it correct?]
exams, in contrast to 11% of degree students; only 50% of diploma/certificate
students passed sessional exams, in contrast to 63% of degree students.
While across the faculties the number of withdrawals in degree courses
varies between 10% and 13%, at diploma/certificate it varies from
11% to 28%. The technical subjects which students must take as part
of their courses are the stumbling block for most of these.
Many students who withdraw are citing wrong course choice as the
reason. Contrary to popular perception, research to date indicates
that most students entering DIT are on their first to third choice.
There is evidently an information gap between what is being offered
and students’ perception of what is being offered.
The retention office has had to take a look at the big picture
and involve itself in programmes and services that have been addressing
the issues involved. It is evident that, for retention initiatives
to take hold and be embedded in the institution, an overall long-term
programme needs to be put in place. Off-the-shelf solutions rarely
work, so it is imperative that a tailored programme of initiatives
be introduced in each faculty, and indeed in each programme. These
strategies should be generated by the course providers, the faculty
management and the institution’s strategic planners, in consultation
with the student retention office and other relevant parties.
There also needs to be ongoing reviews and strategy-development
in the area of sourcing and recruiting students. A holistic approach
will help to make students more aware of course requirements. Validation
committees and programme managers should be sufficiently flexible
to consider introducing interviewing, psychometric testing, skills-gap
testing, understanding of admissions criteria, and bridging courses.
To have students connect with their fellow students, their chosen
programme and the institute itself, the validation committees and
programme managers need to develop and continually improve induction/orientation,
peer mentoring, student guides and academic mentoring initiatives.
It is also vital that support systems are in place for students.
Research makes it is clear that DIT has been at the forefront in
providing a positive support service, with many services in place
such as counselling, chaplaincy, student services, student union,
access service, disability service, clubs and societies.
However, the key to improving the student experience – which
will logically improve retention rates – lies in providing
the resources and dynamic curricula redesign which will enable incoming
students to develop as active learners. There is a need to have
an integrated needs-basis study and key-skills module embedded in
all programmes from day one, and delivered by the people who are
providing the course content. Such skills, which are lifelong skills,
are the backbone to a student’s motivation to persist and
retain intrinsically the wish to continue to learn.
This transformation of the student will prevail only if the framework
and culture to transform the institution is put in place. Staff-development
programmes should be provided which initiate curricula redesign,
introduce solid guidance structures and assessment practice, and
introduce academic mentoring. Again much of this is in place or
is in the process of being developed or reviewed, thereby providing
a template for cultural change. With the development of the Learning
and Teaching Centre, the advent of modularisation and the provision
of Learning Technology as examples of institutional transformation,
DIT has placed student retention in the forefront of its objectives.
Whether this is appreciated universally is a moot point.
The retention office has conducted numerous studies to inform empirically
on anecdotal theories that had heretofore provided opinion on retention
issues. These reports, along with the reports of 2000, have formed
the basis for its identified aims priorities and initiatives. (All
of these reports are available on the DIT website and can be accessed
by linking to http://www.dit.ie/)
Here is a summary of reports completed:
Issued in 2002
- student withdrawal in DT231: a specific report into the
withdrawal of engineering certificate students (Russell,
- course handbook students guide: A generic guide for staff
to adopt in providing a handbook for students (Russell,
- insights into student retention: A study of retention
issues that need to be addressed for a first-year programme (Costello
et al., 2001)
- annual retention figures: an overall, faculty and programme
based report on the persistence of the 2001-2002 first year full-time
et al., 2002)
- numerical skills and retention rates amongst first-year
students in the faculty of engineering (Costello
et al., 2002)
- course-specific reports (DT402 and FT351) (Costello
et al., 2002)
- first-year survey 2001–2002: a report on each faculty
and 43 programmes on students at risk (Russell et al., 2001–2002)