Queen’s posts high student retention rates

One in six university students don’t finish their undergraduate degree, national Statistics Canada survey shows

First-year students are more likely to drop out than upper-year students, academic counsellor Joyce Hunter says.
First-year students are more likely to drop out than upper-year students, academic counsellor Joyce Hunter says.
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When students choose Queen’s, they tend to stay for the long haul.

Queen’s dropout rate is comparatively lower than the rates at other universities across the country.

A new Statistics Canada national survey shows about 14 per cent, or one in six university students, don’t complete their undergraduate degree.

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said the University’s retention rate—that is, the number of first-year students who continue on to second year—is 94.7 per cent.

The graduate rate is in the low-90 per cent range, he said.

“Students who come to Queen’s tend to stay here,” he said.

An opinion piece in the Globe and Mail Sept. 22 stated that, at the University of Manitoba, about 56 per cent of students graduate within six years of starting a program.

As a response to low retention rates, some universities have introduced a fall reading week to combat student stress.

Deane said the University of Manitoba has a higher dropout rate because there’s a lower admissions average than at Queen’s.

The University of Manitoba’s minimum admission average is 60 per cent in six Grade 12 courses. Queen’s minimum admission average is 75 per cent.

The University of Manitoba accepts academically at-risk students through a bridging program to help bring them up to the standard at the university. Students who don’t meet the standard end up dropping out, Deane said.

“The entering average is so high [at Queen’s] that it stands to reason that when you’re bringing in students who are doing very well academically, they are more likely to succeed,” he said.

Most students have a positive experience at Queen’s and their sense of belonging contributes to a more productive context for learning, he said.

Students may be asked to leave for one or two years or permanently if their academic performance doesn’t meet faculty standards, Deane said.

Each faculty has its own rules of what constitutes sufficient academic performance, he said.

In the faculty of Arts and Science, students will be asked to leave for a minimum of three years if they have accumulated six or more failures or if they haven’t passed 15 credits with an average of 60 per cent out of 22 credit attempts.

Deane said having many academically strong students can make Queen’s a high-pressure environment.

“It’s important for the University to pay more attention to the causes of why we lose students.”

He said the University will consider whether adding a fall reading week is a good way to reduce student stress. However, professors may feel strongly about the amount of class in a term and to reduce the term by a week would significantly cut the amount of material that can be covered, he said.

Joyce Hunter, senior academic counsellor and assistant to the Associate Deans (Studies), said she doesn’t think a fall reading week is necessary.

“We have an exam time study period which I think acts similarly,” she said.

As a counsellor, Hunter said she sees on average about three potential dropouts per term, adding that if a student drops out for a reason other than illness, it’s usually in the fall term.

She said students find their first year of university the most difficult, especially because many are away from home for the first time.

Students are more likely to drop out during or immediately after first year than in any other year, she said.

Reasons for dropping out vary.

“In first year, it’s typically the homesickness and being overwhelmed by the work ahead of them,” she said. “The further into the term they get, the more intimidated they get by the academics.”

Universities aren’t entirely to blame when a student isn’t academically successful, she said, adding that some high schools don’t prepare students adequately, particularly in math and writing skills.

“I don’t think that’s new,” she said. “I’ve been here 21 years and it’s never been any different.”

Hunter said she encourages students who are thinking of dropping out to book an appointment with her office first.

“If a student is considering dropping out, we would like to speak to the student about the reasons why and see if there’s anything we can do,” she said.

If a student chooses to withdraw, he or she can return to Queen’s next year without having to reapply.

“I certainly don’t think our [dropout] ratio is one in six,” she said. “Queen’s retention numbers are very healthy.”

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