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DIT and student retention

Author - Frank Costello


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Issued in 2003

  •  retention rates amongst first year students in the faculty of science (Costello et al., 2003)
  •  preliminary findings on withdrawal students 2002–2003 cohort (Costello, 2003)
  •  retention rates amongst first year students in the faculty of tourism and food (Costello et al., 2003)
  •  survival tips for first years entering third level (Costello, 2001)
  •  a practical guide to student guides at induction (Costello, 2002)
  •  proposals for peer mentoring in faculty of engineering (Costello [Year?])
  •  first day and ice breaker suggestions [author/date?]


Various interventions and strategies have been put in place specifically to address retention issues, but it is too early to judge their success. Many of the interventions will be the subject of specific reports and reviews in due course, while others have been referred to already. It should be noted that none of these interventions could have got off the ground without the assistance of members of staff and students who are striving to effect change. The very fact that so many are making efforts to initiate this change in approach has the very positive effect of students experiencing commitment, connection and involvement. The following are some of the initiative that have occurred, are ongoing, or are about to happen:

  •  co-ordinating peer-mentoring programme in engineering
  •   tracking and interviewing at-risk students at course level across the faculties as follows: business (DT315, FT351), tourism and food (DT402), engineering (FT228 and DT231), applied arts (FT604), science (FT223, DT273), built environment (DT114, DT171)
  •   tracking of retention rates before and after interventions
  •   advising and assisting faculties and course co-ordinators on specific issues
  •   working with faculties, schools and support services
  •   promoting induction and orientation programmes across the institute
  •   introducing skills assessments and providing support for study-skills workshops
  •   developing peer-tutoring workshops
  •   raising awareness of retention through teaching and learning initiatives
  •   developing new initiatives through e-learning and distance learning
  •   annual first-year and induction feedback survey now on-line via WebCT
  •   promoting and developing on-line study skills seminar through WebCT
  •   collaborating with other institutions on mutual issues, including UCD, TCD, UL
  •   forging partnerships with faculties to develop initiatives on IT programmes e.g. engineering, maths
  •   providing support and feedback on HEA retention funding initiative on engineering programme FT008

Going forward

As these issues are dealt with, other matters arise that are obviously very important. This means that the retention office's priorities must remain sufficiently flexible to adjust to new and important challenges. While certain issues need to be addressed in the coming year, a consistency of effort on primary concerns must also be maintained. There is a need to continue researching issues and recording student persistence and retention across the whole institute: retention reports will be issued on the faculty of applied arts in December 2003, the faculty of business in March 2004, and the faculty of built environment in May 2004. There will be continued collaboration with other units within DIT in the implementation of its strategic plan. A DIT policy document on retention will be presented to the Directorate and Academic Council in December 2003. It is envisaged that this policy will be embedded in the fabric of DIT as a priority concern for all course-validation committees. As a priority, the peer mentoring programme in engineering is being action researched to develop a template for introduction institute-wide.

Other aims include:

  • advocate and introduce a maths support centre for science and engineering with other academic support centres to follow for other faculties
  •   appoint a researcher to investigate student retention issues, quantitatively and qualitatively, for the part-time cohort of DIT (this new appointment will be made by January 2004)
  •   develop deeper liaison with secondary schools’ career guidance in collaboration with the DIT admissions office and faculties
  •   introduce effective systems for tracking students across all areas of DIT: dialogue with all faculty administrators and staff has commenced, seeking to maximise the Banner system and other systems more effectively to identify at-risk students earlier
  •   develop an updated, integrated website: all the reports completed by the retention office will be available online for the new academic year

As DIT embraces modularisation, e-learning and distance learning, it is important that these are reviewed from a retention perspective. It is also important that postgraduate and mature-student-retention issues are looked at in the context of the developing demographic of future incoming students. By continuing to provide empirical quantitative reports and qualitative strategies on student persistence, the student retention office can support the institute in fulfilling a vital aspect of its strategic plan.

It is interesting how a project takes on a life of its own and becomes a part of the very fabric of an organisation. In this instance it is the need for data and strategies on the retention of students that drives the student retention office. With developments regarding funding at third-level and influences from Ireland and abroad regarding how best to finance viable and interesting programmes that are both sustainable and relevant, the recruitment and retention of students has moved swiftly from being a laudable aspiration to a very necessary and vital requirement.