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Report 2009:29 R

Measures of Student Completion for Programmes at First and Second-cycle Levels

The report (390 kB)
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This is a summary in English. The report is available only in Swedish.

Measures of student completion used so far

The measures that have long been used to measure student completion are graduation rate, which is measured by following up university entrants after three, five, seven and eleven years to find out the proportion that have graduated, and the maximum permitted and actual periods of study for the degree.
We have tried to develop the current methods on the basis of those used for measuring student completion and the interpretation problems that frequently arise, and have thus carried out a specific survey of programmes leading to professional qualifications, in order to describe graduation rates and maximum permitted periods of study.

Three factors became apparent in our survey.

The first is that graduation rate is a measure that is most suitable for describing student completion on programmes that result in a degree necessary for work in a certain profession, i.e. registered occupations. However, our results show that neither graduation rate nor period of study is a particularly good way of measuring the effectiveness of a programme, particularly for Bachelors of Science in Engineering. A more in-depth survey would be necessary to examine why the students who start a BSc in Engineering do not graduate.
The second factor is that women have consistently higher graduation rates, shorter periods of study and complete more credits than men.

The third factor is that the students have different aims when studying. Many of the students on freestanding courses are not studying for a degree, which means that methodology needs to be developed in order to follow up this type of study pattern.

Graduation rate

We have investigated the graduation rate for all professional qualifications. In this survey, we have found the following:
  • The differences in graduation rates between the various professional qualification programmes varied between 37 percent and 91 percent.
  • Generally, programmes leading to registered occupations have a higher graduation rate than other programmes.
  • Graduation rate is a good measure of completed degrees for programmes that lead to registered occupations. For other professional qualifications, we cannot automatically conclude that low graduation rates mean that the students have not completed the programme.
  • Programmes with high graduation rates are generally dominated by women and programmes with low graduation rates by men.
  • It is also the case that women generally have higher graduation rates than men for each programme.

Reasons for low graduation rates

We have also tried to survey the reasons for low graduation rates that can be deduced from the higher education institutions' register. We have found the following:
  • A number of programmes have a large proportion of students who have been registered on the entire programme without graduating. They have probably completely, or almost completely, finished the programme. The clearest example of this is the BSc in Engineering, which is also the programme with the lowest graduation rate.
  • There are a few programmes on which many of the students continue to be registered, but where they have one or several periods of approved leave from studies. They thus take a long time to complete their studies (if they complete them). A typical example is Architecture programmes, but this also applies to Civil Engineering and Agricultural Science. • Students who do not graduate from programmes that lead to registered occupations tend to have changed the focus of their studies or completely left higher education.
  • Something common to all programmes is that there are some differences between men and women who do not graduate. Men leave higher education to a greater degree than women, whereas women change the focus of their studies to a greater degree. When women change the focus of their studies, they choose between a number of different alternatives, while men often continue within the same subject area as that in which they started.
  • The majority of people who leave a programme do so relatively early in the programme, after one or two terms.

Maximum permitted period of study in professional qualifications

As regards the maximum permitted periods of study for professional qualifications, our survey showed the following:
  • The maximum permitted periods of study that have so far been calculated entail, for most graduates, an overestimation of the study period by one term, for technical and administrative reasons.
  • Periods of study for different degrees display even greater variations than graduation rates. The proportion of graduates who have a maximum permitted period of study that is equivalent to a “normal period of study" varies between 15 and 93 percent for different degrees.
  • No degrees that lead to registered occupations are among those with the longest study periods.
  • The programmes that have the longest maximum permitted periods of study in relation to a “normal period of study" are also found among the programmes with the lowest graduation rates. Three of these are major programmes, i.e. BSc in Engineering, MSc in Engineering and Legal Science programmes.
  • There is also a clear difference between the sexes as regards periods of study: in total, women have shorter maximum permitted periods of study than men. When you compare this programme by programme, the gender differences are not strikingly significant. However, in the majority of cases, women have shorter maximum permitted periods of study than men, but the situation can also be reversed. Finally, as regards the four programmes with long periods of study to which we paid particular attention, we found:
  • The primary explanation for the long period of study is that students have terms that are not registered at the higher education institution within their maximum permitted period of study.
  • Terms that are not registered are generally right before graduation. The highest proportion of graduates who were not registered, nor had completed credits, right before graduation have a BSc in Engineering, which means that these students were more likely than others to return to graduate from a degree that they were not awarded when finishing their studies.
  • The Architecture graduates had their terms without registration more widely distributed than other graduates.

General programmes and freestanding courses

The survey we carried out regarding students on general programmes and on freestanding courses has resulted in some conclusions about patterns in these student groups:
  • The students' aims for their studies vary between the different groups. These aims also differ within the groups of students on freestanding courses.
  • Performance (the proportion of completed credits in relation to the number of credits for which a student is registered) differs between the types of studies, general programmes and freestanding courses: a higher proportion of students on general programmes complete more than 80 percent of the credits for which they registered than do students on freestanding courses.
  • Performance does not differ in a clear manner between different age groups.
  • Performance differs between men and women: a considerably greater proportion of female students than male students complete more than 80 percent of the credits for which they register. This applies to students on all study types (freestanding courses, general programmes or a combination), regardless of how much they are registered for, as well as all age groups.

Conclusions about measures of student completion

It is not meaningful or desirable to present one single measure and one single piece of information regarding student completion for the entire student population. At present, the measures of graduate ration and period of study are only meaningful for use in professional qualifications. Further development is necessary in order to be able to use these measures for general degrees. Completely different measures need to be developed to account for student completion on freestanding courses.
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