Tertiary student retention
What We Have Found80% of all the full-time domestic students who started study in 2010 were still studying at the same qualification level or higher in 2011, or had completed a qualification.
The proportion of full-time tertiary education students who started study in a particular year, who were still studying in the following year(s), at the same qualification level or higher, or who had completed a qualification.
Why This Is Important
The retention rate is an indicator of the quality of the tertiary education system and the extent to which it is meeting students’ needs.
There are many factors outside of the tertiary education system that also impact on whether a student continues in study until they complete a qualification. Low levels of unemployment increase the opportunity cost of tertiary education study in terms of earnings foregone. The availability of financial support while studying also influences the decisions of people whether to continue their studies. There are also many social factors that impinge on people’s decisions to continue their studies such as family commitments.
It is important to observe changes in the rate at which students are retained in study to allow interventions to be undertaken when the rates become lower than what would be expected under certain economic and social conditions. By tracking the retention rates for particular groups of students such as ethnic groups, or by qualification level, or by provider type, steps to improve the rate of retention can be taken when considered necessary. This allows the benefits that flow from completing a tertiary qualification to be available to a greater proportion of those who start study. The targeting of groups at greater risk from stopping study can help increase their retention in tertiary education.
How We Are Going
The retention rates of full-time domestic students – one year after starting study – show that the proportion of students retained is higher at the highest qualification levels. Of the students starting study in 2010, those undertaking doctorates had a first-year retention rate of 98%, while students in level 5-7 diplomas had the lowest first-year retention rate of 72%.
Over the years from 2000 to 2010, the first-year retention rate of full-time domestic students in bachelors-degree study (87% in 2010) has been stable, at around 88 %. The first-year retention rate for students undertaking graduate certificates and diplomas was also 88% from 2006 to 2008, but in recent years the rate has fallen: to 83% in 2009 and 81% in 2010 – the same level that it was in 2000. At all other qualification levels, the first-year rate of retention has improved over the last 10 years with the highest percentage point increase occurring for people studying level 1 to 3 certificates.
Note: Broken vertical axis.
64% of the full-time students who started a level 1 to 3 certificate in 2000 were still studying in 2001, or had completed a qualification, while for the students who started in 2010 the proportion retained was higher at 79%. The comparable figures were 60% and 74% for level 4 certificates, 69% and 72% for level 5 to 7 diplomas, 79% and 85 % for honours degrees and postgraduate certificates/diplomas, 80% and 89% for masters degrees and 90% and 98% for doctoral degrees.
Of the full-time domestic students who started study in 2010, 86% of Asian students were still enrolled in 2011, or had completed a qualification. The comparable figure for European students was 82%, while the percentage for Māori and Pasifika students was considerably lower at 71% and 75%, respectively. The biggest difference between ethnic groups was found at level 5-7 diplomas with 57% of Māori students still studying in 2011 or having completed a qualification, compared to 81% of Asian students. Of European students who started a level 5-7 diplomas in 2010, 76% were still studying in 2011 and of Pasifika students, the proportion still studying was 69%.
Figure 2: First-year retention rates of full-time domestic students who started study in 2010, by ethnic group and qualification level
Over the years from 2000 to 2010, a higher proportion of women, than men, were still studying after one year, or had completed a qualification, at the various qualification levels except at Graduate certificate/diploma level, and Honours/Postgraduate diplomas. Of all the students who started study in 2010, 82% of women and 78% of men were still studying in 2011, or had completed a qualification. The comparable figures at Graduate certificate/diploma level were 81% of both men women.
Figure 3: First-year retention rates of full-time domestic students who started study in 2010, by gender and qualification level
Over the years from 2000 to 2010, the increase in the first-year retention rate at polytechnics and wānanga was greater than for universities. Of the polytechnic students who started study in 2000, 65% were still studying in 2001, or had completed a qualification, compared with 74% of the students who started study in 2010. Those for wānanga were 65% and 75%. The comparable figures for the universities were 83% and 86%. The increase in the first-year retention rate was largest for private training establishments, up from 67% of the 2000 starters to 83% of the 2010 starters.
- Ministry of Education (2012). New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Sector: Profile & Trends 2011. Wellington: Ministry of Education.