Statistics Project Topics

Statistical Analysis on the Rate of Student Withdrawal in Polytechnic

Statistical Analysis on the Rate of Student Withdrawal in Polytechnic



1.3     Objectives of the study

The main objective of this research is to gain an in-depth and contextualized perspective of the reasons polytechnic students stay on or withdraw from their courses.

Specifically, the study attempts to;

  1. Examine the challenges facing Nigeria polytechnic trade students that may lead them to withdraw from their courses.
  2. Examine the factors that assist Nigeria polytechnic trade students to remain on and pass their courses.



2.1     Introduction

Chapter Two reviews the literature around polytechnic trade students’ success and retention. It identifies what is known about this topic and what gaps may exist in the research to date. There is a plethora of research around the general topic of student success and retention across the educational spectrum. This is particularly so for the tertiary sector where attendance is voluntary. There is however a shortage of information specifically relating to trade students on full time courses at polytechnic institutions. Additionally, as most students on entry-level polytechnic courses have just left high school, attention will also be given to research regarding high school student retention.

The aim of this chapter is to review and critique the literature around polytechnic trade students’ success and retention to ascertain:

  1. What research has been carried out around the subject of tertiary students’ success and retention?
  2. What are the key findings from this research?
  3. Does the research highlight specific factors associated with the success and retention of trade students?
  4. Are there any major gaps in the research literature or limitations with respect to trade students?
  5. From the literature, what questions remain unanswered in order to understand the issues surrounding trade students’ reasons for withdrawing from their courses prior to completion?


A review of the literature shows that over the last three decades much research has been carried out on student engagement, success and retention. Zepke and Leach (2005), for example, were able to carry out a synthesis of 146 studies on the subject. While not yet researched extensively in Nigeria tertiary settings, elsewhere it is abundant, although most of the work centres on degree-level students at standard universities (Weiner, 1990). There is, however, very little research pertaining to the academic persistence of sub-degree and vocational trades students carried out at polytechnic-type organisations. Sub-degree and vocational trades’ students at polytechnic-type

organisations are different from university or (US) college students in a number of ways. For example, the courses they attend often have no or low entry criteria; typically, only three years secondary education and minimal if any requirements for English and Maths ability. Also, virtually all the students commute to the institution daily instead of living at the institution (Assiter & Gibbs, 2007; Ryan & Glenn, 2004).

In recent years, inquiry into the Nigeria certificate and diploma level tertiary study has started to build. In 2010, for example, a pilot study using the Australasian Survey of

Student Engagement (AUSSE) was conducted with ten Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) throughout Nigeria. This AUSSE survey collected over 2,200 responses from students studying at Nigeria Qualifications Authority levels three through seven (Radloff, 2011). However, within the literature, it is shown that the same research questions can deliver different results from multi-institutional studies compared with single institution studies (Zepke & Leach, 2010). The AUSSE survey also produced diverse findings among the different ITPs as well as diverse findings between discipline areas within the same institutions (Radloff, 2011). This not only leads to a confusing diversity of findings on the subject but also provides a clear illustration of the vastness of the field of study.

Although many studies, even recent ones like Radloff (2011) and Doll, Eslami and Walters (2013) for example, list single reasons for students withdrawing from the education system, generally the literature indicates that students discontinue tertiary education for a number of reasons and often finds that there is rarely a single reason why a student would leave (Baird, 2002; Crosling, Heagney, & Thomas, 2009; Radloff, 2011; Ryan & Glenn,

2004). In most cases, the explanation is convoluted, with students leaving for a combination of inter-related factors. Some students withdraw for reasons beyond the control of the institution, including personal reasons and changed personal circumstances; others withdraw citing factors that may be within the control of the institution to mitigate. A poor choice of course is one example. Overall a number of themes can be distilled from the literature on this subject. Two themes are related to the students themselves and two are related to the institution.

Of the two themes relating to students themselves one has to do with personality factors, beliefs and thoughts (Bandura, 1993; Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992; Walker & Greene, 2009; Zimmerman & Cleary, 2006). The other concerns personal factors – family, finances, work commitments, transport problems and the like (Baird, 2002; Davies & Elias, 2003; Quinn et al., 2005; Radloff, 2011; Yorke & Longden, 2008). The two themes relating to the institution can be separated into factors inside or outside the classroom. Inside the classroom there are factors such as teaching and learning methods, and class room relationships (Demaris & Kritsonis, 2011; Jessup-Anger, 2011; Newman & Schwager, 1993; Richardson, 2011; Seifert & O’Keefe, 2001; Tinto, 2002, 2006; Walker & Greene, 2009). Outside the classroom there are factors that may or may not be directly related to the student’s learning, such as whether the student is on the correct course (subject-wise or level-wise), and whether or not the institution is able to provide support for other issues the student may have (Baird, 2002; Davies & Elias, 2003; Quinn et al., 2005; Radloff, 2011; Tinto, 2006; Yorke & Longden, 2008).

2.3     Definition of Terms

The term ‘student engagement’ concerns student involvement in learning and implies an active and intelligent interest in teaching and learning (Trower, 2010). Student retention refers to the extent to which learners remain within a higher education institution, and complete a programme of study in a pre-determined time-period (Jones, 2008). A wide range of terms is used to describe retention and its opposite.  Some tend to emphasise what might be termed the student dimension, for example: persistence, withdrawal, dropout, and student success (Jones, 2008). By contrast, others focus on the institutional perspective, examples here include retention and graduation rates (Jones, 2008). Additionally, two classes of goals have been linked to motivation and performance in achievement situations. Performance goals have an emphasis on outcomes as measures of ability whereas learning goals (also known as mastery goals) have an emphasis on understanding (Grant & Dweck, 2003). These last two terms are used to differentiate between the ways that a learner approaches the learning task.



3.1     Introduction

In this chapter the research paradigm, methodology and research method adopted for this research are outlined. A rationale for the chosen methodology and techniques employed to gather and analyse the data will also be examined. Additionally, the associated ethical issues will be discussed and the issues of reliability and validity addressed.

3.2     Overview  

The methodological approach refers to the choice of consultation, information gathering and analysis decided on for the research project (Bryman, 2008). Bryman (2008) describes how the choice of methodology will determine how the research is undertaken, what resources, processes and analytical tools are chosen.



4.1     Introduction

In this chapter the findings from the data analysis of the pre-course questionnaire, the post-course questionnaire and the student interviews are presented.  Significant themes and ideas are identified and developed. Key findings relating to what causes trade students to prematurely leave their courses, and its converse, what helps them to stay, are considered.

In the results discussed below the students’ ages at the end of the course are used. Also, when the students’ data is sorted by age no differentiation is made between students with the same age year. That is to say, all eighteen year olds are just listed as 18. Their order in the data is either randomly chosen or selected by a secondary sorting criterion such as their final mark.

In all cases discussed in this analysis of results, the “final mark” refers to the final mark for the basic electrical theory paper. This paper contains the foundation knowledge for all electrical and electronic subjects. The final mark is made up from the weighted sum of four assessments:

  1. Theory Test One – Electrical Quantities, Terms and Units – contributes 30% to the final mark
  2. Theory Test Two – Conductors, Insulators and Resistors – contributes 30% to the final mark
  3. Written Assignment One – Production of an EMF (How electricity is made) – contributes 20% to the final mark
  4. Electrical Practical Assessment– Measure electrical quantities in a circuit – contributes 20% to the final mark.



5.1     Introduction

The intention of this research project was to ascertain whether or not students who withdrew from trade courses at a polytechnic conformed to the same picture being painted of tertiary students in general who withdrew from their courses prior to successful completion, and what procedures could be put in place to reduce the withdrawal rate. To this end one cohort of an entry level electrical trade course was studied. Pre- and postcourse questionnaires were given to the cohort and three students were selected for semistructured interviews conducted at the conclusion of the course.

5.2     Summary

This project was undertaken with a view to gaining an in-depth and contextualised perspective of the issues surrounding Nigeria polytechnic trade students’ decisions to withdraw from their courses and identify the factors that lead to improved academic achievement rates. While there is much research on the subject of student success and completion, most of it concerns degree level education at universities. There is very little research focussing on the perspective of polytechnic students whose struggle with their education leads them to withdraw from their courses prior to completion.

This research project found that polytechnic students can, and do, suffer many of the same challenges as their university counterparts. The common issues are:

personal issues including financial limitations, travel issues and unforeseen family circumstances    a lack of confidence leading to debilitating study practices            incorrect choice of course.

Factors that are strong indicators of pending withdrawal are low attendance levels and whether or not an early assessment is passed.

The main finding, which has not been described in studies of university students, is the effect that the students’ age appears to have on their likelihood of withdrawing. This research strongly indicates that 16 and 17 year-old students have the highest risk of withdrawing from their course prior to its successful completion. That this is not mentioned in other literature on tertiary success and retention is most likely due to students needing to be a year or two older to gain university entrance grades from school.


In view of the above findings the following recommendations can be made:

Recommendation 1

All 16 and 17 year-old (if not all) applicants be assessed prior to being accepted onto a tertiary course.

Due to the diversity of prior academic experiences in gaining a qualification, applicants should be assessed for the specific area they have chosen to study. As each industry has a unique set of skill and ability requirements, so each person has certain natural aptitudes which allow them to be a “good fit” in some areas but not in others. While skills can be taught, if a student is challenged enough to be kept interested, they have a better chance at remaining in the training (Hsieh et al., 2007). If they are challenged too much so as to be unable to achieve competency within a reasonable time, or too little so as to become bored quickly, they may be prone to quitting.


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