Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why students drop out

The Mail and Guardian published an article reporting the findings of a recent study on the reasons behind the high university drop-out rate in South Africa. Top of the list is lack of funds, but more worrying to me is that on that list is: “My lecturers were so inaccessible that I did not think I could approach them for help”.
I think it's wonderful that the MAP program at NYU ensures that students have weekly sections with TAs in small groups, where they can get some individualized attention, but it does concern me that really the only individual attention they get is from graduate students. The classes are just too big, and the faculty under too much pressure (especially if they are on the tenure track) to be able to get to know their students, and without that students really are going to find it difficult to get into graduate programs, and in certain instances, even to find jobs. References are such an important part of the application process, and before that, the mentorship of a faculty member who cares about and believes in the academic project is so important to the process of entering higher education. If it is also, as the survey suggests, important that lecturers be available to students, just to ensure that they finish their degrees, then I'm not sure how effective this system is. I guess I'm just questioning, once again, the state of the academy that deprioritizes teaching, when it is that, in the end, that funds (and should motivate) all other aspects of the University program.

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