New research from the Federal Department of Education shows that even nine years after the 2006 cohort of Australian university students began their studies only 73.5 per cent of students had completed a course. That equates to one-third of students who actually don’t graduate. The numbers in the US are similar with only 60 per cent of first-time, full-time undergraduate students, who began their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at a four-year degree-granting institution within six years, completing it.
The figures come as spiralling taxpayer-funded student loans appear positioned to catapult to $11.1 billion a year by 2026 which, according to figures from the Parliamentary Budget Office, will equate to 46.3 per cent of the Australia’s public debt.
What isn’t clear from the SMH article that sparked this post is the reasons behind the failure to complete so I find this article annoyingly inflammatory (for instance, the headline claims it’s ‘one-third of students’ when the figure is actually closer to one-fourth) — and, frankly, I find it irresponsible as it’s been published the morning of the day the main round of university offers are to be released online later tonight, making it appear to claim that average completion rates should be a major factor in deciding which University to attend.
I find this particularly unfair to the Universities mentioned and the incoming students trying to make the best decision, since average completion rates require context and are not the only factor to be considered. For instance, the high cost of education means more students have to fit study around part-time or full time jobs and often around parent-care or child-care responsibilities, not to mention there is a higher percentage of mature-age students going back to University.
I agree with Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham who said, students need to “know exactly what they’re signing up for”.
“We’ve heard too many stories about students who have changed courses, dropped out because they made the wrong choices about what to study, students who didn’t realise there were other entry pathways or who started a course with next to no idea,” he said.
The lasting question this article left me with was — how relevant is a University degree these days anyway?
There are a lot of other benefits a University experience can provide but, when it comes to how much impact it has on your employability, I’d argue this is another major factor in the low completion rates as increasingly more hiring managers and business owners value aptitude and attitude over a University stamp of approval.
As a live job marketplace, WorkibleJOBS has a unique vantage point into real-time and historical hiring patterns as well as insights into workforce sentiments and trends. One of the primary concerns of Uni-aged job seekers is, “Is my degree actually going to get me a job?” And the data we’ve unlocked is — it’s not a guarantee. What we do see is that while a job ad might say they require a Uni degree, when we look at the criteria Workible employers shortlist on work experience more often than not trumps a University degree.
This is evidence that we are in state of change. At the end of the day, a business owner or hiring manager wants to find the absolute best person for the job but most are still conditioned to recruit the old way which requires posting a job ad on a mainstream job board and waiting for applicants resulting in what we call an “application avalanche” that typically produces 95 per cent irrelevant candidates. So, in order to cut down on the huge pile of resumes and make the selection process more manageable, it’s easy to use a University degree as a benchmark.
I say it’s time to let go of how it’s always been done. Just like the workforce is becoming much more fluid and flexible, the Education sector is realising you don’t necessarily need a full University degree so we’re seeing courses evolve into bite-sized pieces a student can take at their pace. Bite off one section of the course that lands them a job, then bite off the next when you want to progress. Jobs are changing at such a rapid rate, a four-year degree often becomes meaningless by the time you graduate anyway.
So rather than pull a “Chicken Little” about falling completion rates, when you dig a bit deeper it may actually be an indicator of positive change for everyone — student, employer, Government — involved.
If you’re interested in Workible’s latest Education Insights Report, I’d be happy to share a copy with you – just get in touch with our Support Team.