Reducing the drop-out rate by enhancing social integration
According to a survey conducted by the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW), 29 per cent of first-year students leave university prematurely without a degree. Although there are many reasons for this, the aspect of performance issues is mentioned most frequently. Higher education institutions (HEIs) endeavour to address these issues by offering preparatory courses and support programmes during the introductory phase.
The second most frequently stated reason for dropping out of higher education is a lack of motivation to study, according to the early leavers surveyed within the DZHW study. It is not apparent from the survey why the passion to study diminishes over time. QUEST, a survey instrument developed by CHE Consult, is one way to find explanations and solutions to this issue. The tool uses psychometric data to determine individual students’ probability of succeeding at university.
QUEST investigates the interactions between students’ personal characteristics, their skills, their motivation and the services offered at the HEI. Based on this information, not only a student’s “academic adaptation”, i.e. their individual adaptation to expectations of performance and skills at university, but also their “social adaptation” can be described. This is rated high if a student has regular social contact with fellow students and teaching staff and if they are aware of the offers of help provided by the HEI and are willing to use them, if need be. Empirical findings have shown that successful social adaptation increases the probability of finishing university.
The current evaluation of the data shows that students whose parents did not go to university or complete an apprenticeship demonstrate a lower level of social adaptation at university than reference groups. The same applies for students who have migrated – or whose parents were migrants. As a result, a group of students that is structurally underrepresented at HEIs in the first place has less chance of success at university compared to other groups of students. Social adaptation at universities of applied sciences is slightly better across all groups than at universities.
It therefore becomes apparent that if something is to be done to improve the drop-out rate and equal opportunities at the same time, then it does not suffice to rely merely on offering support programmes on specialised subject content in the individual disciplines. First-year students need opportunities for social encounters just as they need good student guidance and bridge courses.
It would therefore be important to develop instruments and processes that would increase the likelihood of students becoming socially integrated at university. Examples could include areas for student working groups and low-threshold – or more or less obligatory – offers of collaborative activities or project-oriented work when students start university in a bid to prevent first-year students from having doubts about university and leaving prematurely.