Drop-Out Rates Higher for Minority Students

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Statistics published by both The Gryphon and the University reveal that certain groups of students face a far greater likelihood of dropping out of university.

Between the academic years in 2018/19, statistics reveal that University of Leeds students from various minority groups – including disabled students, BAME students, LGBT+ students, mature students and students who had undertaken BTEC courses before university – dropped out of university at a distinctively higher rate than their peers. 

Almost a quarter of students who studied a BTEC course rather than A Levels prior to enrolling at the University of Leeds did not continue beyond their first year of study, statistics obtained by The Gryphon can reveal. Students whose only further education qualification was a BTEC diploma had a non-continuation rate of 24.9% last year.

These statistics reveal a very large gap in non-continuation rates between students who studied BTEC courses and those who did not. Those with solely BTEC qualifications were almost five times more likely to drop out than those without BTEC qualifications, including those who studied A Levels or other qualifications who had a non-continuation rate of 5.1% for the same period.

Non-continuation rates for Black and Asian students were 9.6% and 10.4% respectively in 2018/19, while during the same period only 5.4% of White students dropped out. In other words, Asian students were 93% more likely to drop out than White students, and Black students were 78% more likely. Students who identified as ‘Other’, which includes mixed-race students, had a non-continuation rate of 8.1%.

This disparity in the University of Leeds’ non-continuation rates mirrors The Gryphon’s findings earlier this year, revealing the large awarding gap between Black and White students at the University of Leeds. Last year, Black students were four times less likely to be awarded a First Class degree than their white counterparts. 

The Gryphon also revealed a 12.7% gap between the proportions of BAME and White students achieving a 2:1 or First in 2017/2018.

Statistics from the University of Leeds’ Access and Participation Plan for the 2020/21 – 2024/25 period reveal that the non-continuation gap between students from the lowest and highest income backgrounds has grown in recent years. Between the 2015/16 and 2016/17 academic periods, the continuation gap between Q1 (lowest income quintile) and Q5 (highest income quintile) students widened from 1.7% to 3.8%. The five-year average continuation gap between Q1 and Q5 students at the University of Leeds was reported to be 2.5%.

LGBTQ+ and disabled students also showed higher non-continuation rates than their non-LGBT and non-disabled peers. In 2018/19, 7.6% of LGBTQ+ students beginning their courses in September 2017 dropped out, compared to 6.2% of their non-LGBTQ+ peers. The University does not have figures for those who identify as transgender.

Disabled students experienced non-continuation rates of 8.2% during the same period, compared to 5.9% of students who did not declare a disability.

Mature students at the University of Leeds – those over the age of 21 when beginning their undergraduate degree – were over three times more likely to drop out during their first year than their younger peers. In 2018/19, the non-continuation rate for mature students at the university was 16.9%, 213% higher than their younger peers, only 5.4% of whom dropped out during the same period.

Various factors may contribute to the higher rates of non-continuation for students from minority backgrounds, including: financial difficulties, imposter syndrome, experiencing prejudice, family commitments, and mental health issues. 

Statistics released by the Office for Students reveal that, for the 2016/17-2017/18 academic period, only 86.8% of students who reported having a mental health condition continued their studies beyond their first year, compared to 90.3% of students with no reported disability. Additionally, statistics released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency in 2017 revealed that, between the 2009-10 and 2014-15 academic periods, there was a 210% increase in students leaving their course early due to poor mental health.

The University of Leeds does not have data on the proportion of students who dropped out of university due to mental health reasons. Instead, this would likely fall under the very broad categories of either ‘Health Reasons’ or ‘Other Personal Reasons’.

This raises the question that without more specific data, how can the University target the key issues that lead to higher non-continuation rates amongst certain groups of students if it cannot identify them?

It is worth noting that, while it is very important to understand the factors that influence non-continuation, the University of Leeds must be mindful of the privacy of students. Some students may not wish to declare more detailed personal information if they drop out of University. Students who choose not to continue after their first year can self-declare the reason, but it might not be appropriate for the University to insist on obtaining this information.

Abiha Khan, Education Officer at Leeds University Union, said:

“A huge priority for me this year has been shining a light on the issues around the BAME awarding gap, both at the University of Leeds and nationally. 

“Research shows that there are a wide range of reasons for non-continuation which disproportionately affect students from BAME and other more minority backgrounds, and LUU is working hard to ensure that the University of Leeds recognises this fact and works towards improving continuation and decreasing the gap in award for these students.

“In the case of black students, they are 4 times as likely to be impacted by barriers to continuation as their white counterparts.”

Over the last year, non-continuation rates for minority students at the University of Leeds were consistently higher than that of their peers. This same trend is seen in universities across the country.

Commenting on non-continuation data published by Higher Education Student Data in March 2019, Chris Millward, the Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Office for Students, said:

“We should not let a positive national picture mask the situation at some universities and other higher education providers where non-continuation rates are higher than students deserve. We know that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to complete their studies than their more advantaged peers.”

Citing the Office for Students’ role, and approach, in closing the non-continuation gap for minority students, he said:

“The Office for Students’ new approach requires universities to ensure that all students are given the support they need, not just to access higher education but also to complete and succeed in their studies. Where universities are not making enough progress in this area, we will expect them to turn the situation around to ensure that higher education’s life-changing benefits can be realised.”

A spokesperson from the University of Leeds said:

“Attracting and retaining a diverse cohort of students is extremely important to us, and there are many, varied and complex reasons why students may not continue their studies after their first year.

“We undertake detailed research to understand the factors that influence non-continuation in specific groups, and this has informed the targeted interventions that are detailed in our Access and Participation Plan.

“In common with many Russell Group universities, we know that there is always room for improvement, and we will continue to work to provide support to students at every stage and in all aspects of their journey, from application to graduation.”

Image Credit: Ed Barnes