High university drop-out rate in Maritimes worries student advocates
31 per cent of students entering Maritime universities dropped out of school, study says
As university administrators met with Nova Scotia government representatives Monday to discuss the future of post-secondary education, student advocates were raising concerns about the large number of students that drop out without graduating.
"I think it is absolutely concerning that, especially in the Maritimes, the drop-out rate after the first year seems to be higher than in the rest of Canada," said Tristan Bray, the executive director of Students Nova Scotia.
Last year, a study done by the Fredericton-based Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission found that up to 31 per cent of students entering Maritime universities dropped out of school and did not graduate.
The study tracked 9,518 first-time, full-time students to see where they ended up after seven years. Although the study covered all universities in the Maritimes, it was heavily influenced by Nova Scotia due to the large number of schools in the province.
Bray said while the overall cost of an education plays a part in the high drop-out rate, there are other factors pushing students to quit.
"There's that financial aspect, but I also think there are a lot of other barriers that students face transitioning into post-secondary," he said.
"For many students it's the first time that they're living away from home, they're outside of their communities, they're outside of their support groups, and I think that universities across the province could do better to address those gaps."
The drop-out numbers
The MPHEC study found the drop-out rate was most pronounced between first year and second year, with 17 per cent of the students dropping out after just one year of school.
Only 41 per cent of the students tracked graduated from the original university they entered within four years. Some took longer to finish their degrees, and a small number transferred to another Maritime university and graduated.
Bray said he thinks financial need should be addressed with more non-repayable grants programs and free tuition targeted towards low-income and marginalized students.
Students Nova Scotia is also advocating for supports in areas like medical care, mental-health care and sexual violence prevention, which Bray said would be helpful in getting more students to stay in school.
On Monday, a group led by the Canadian Federation of Students gathered outside a meeting between universities and the Department of Labour and Advanced Education. The meeting was held to examine a draft memorandum of understanding that will set the direction of university governance for the next few years.
"Our message is clear: tuition fees cannot continue to increase, and we need increased funding to our institutions," said Aidan McNally, the Nova Scotia chair of the Canadian Federation of Students.
McNally said the CFS is advocating for an immediate 10 per cent decrease in tuition fees, and working towards eliminating tuition fees within 10 years.
Under the current three-year MOU that expires this year, universities were able to raise annual undergraduate tuition by up to three per cent for Nova Scotia students. The cap of three per cent did not apply to out-of-province students, international students and graduate students.
The MOU also gave universities the option to bump the cost of certain programs if they were lower than what similar institutions were charging. This "one-time market adjustment" led some institutions to raise tuition fees by thousands of dollars in some programs.
In an email, the Department of Labour and Advanced Education confirmed the new MOU will be finalized the next few weeks.