22 SES 08 D, Student Trajectories and Drop-Outs
The recent global economic crisis has brought renewed attention to the difficulties faced by young people in securing stable employment. In addition, rising post-school educational participation has raised new challenges around ensuring a more seamless transition from one stage to the next. Thus post-school transitions, and particularly the transition to higher education, have assumed an increasing importance in the policy agenda. At the European Commission higher education is one of three transversal themes of particular policy focus. This paper draws on the findings of a large-scale mixed methods study in Ireland, Leaving School in Ireland, combining a survey of school leavers 3-4 years after completing secondary education, with in-depth interviews with a subset of 27 young people. The paper highlights a range of key processes shaping both the decision to participate in higher education and how young people experience that transition. The results highlight a number of key issues for higher education internationally – in particular highlighting key processes shaping successful progression to higher education. The paper examines a range of micro, meso and macro factors shaping young people’s post-secondary transitions. The key role of school context and institutional habitus emerges as a core finding with higher education assuming a ‘taken-for-granted’ status in middle class school contexts. Students attending working class school contexts are less likely to see higher education as a ‘realistic’ option – just half of those from working-class schools applied for a place in higher education, a pattern attributed to a climate of lower expectations in the school and local area. Parental support was as particularly strong factor in encouraging working class young people to aspire to higher education.
In reflecting on the choices made, middle class young people are more likely to realise their goals and have fewer regrets about the pathway pursued, a pattern that was largely facilitated by their higher exam performance in secondary school. School based information and guidance were found to play some role in helping young people to avoid choices they will later regret since, for some, regret centres in their courses not being what they anticipated. In some cases, this mismatch between expectations and reality culminated in young people not completing their course. Others, however, only became aware later on that their field of study was ‘not for them’ even though they had completed their degrees. Finally the results highlight significant difficulties created by the disjunction in teaching and learning approaches in secondary and higher education. In particular, students highlighted the difficulty they experienced in shifting to the self-directed learning style within higher education, contrasting with the more directive approach adopted in school.
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