I read an article in the Times yesterday whereby they attempted to blame students for the large drop out rates, associating College with a snob value, meaning that nowadays teenagers just go to college, simply because it is the next thing they should do, regardless of aptitude. And while I can concur, that there are students out there that simply should not have gone into another stream of academia, I fully believe both colleges and the CAO have to take the majority of the responsibility.
I remember the first day of college when lecturers enquired as to our reasoning for choosing Electrical Engineering, I had some insightful phrase learned off to impress my peers as engineering had been my first CAO choice, I soon realised that this wasn’t true of my other classmates. The majority of direct entry students were there, mainly because it had been the only course they were accepted into regardless of aptitude or interest.
It was at that moment I realised that points system had no bearings on intelligence or exam performance but solely on popularity, I completed all higher level subjects through Irish for my Leaving Cert and received a slightly higher than average 505 points and while I have no fear of someone mistaking my IQ for that of Stephen Hawking, people were still shocked that my first CAO choice was only 315 points.
They thought I was underachieving, settling on a mediocre course, in reality they had no idea. Electrical Engineering is mathematics and physics, translated into different module titles to confuse naïve freshers and its points should reflect this! Electrical Engineering is not for the faint hearted and this is not the students fault, especially when the 2016 level 7 points for Electrical Engineering are a dismal 260, substantially lower than arts.
But the points system is not only to blame, I had a relative idea of Electrical Engineering in terms of career possibilities, from my Dad, also an Electrical Engineer, but I still had no idea what the day to day course work would resemble. A natural worrier I was a little panicked having not taken physics for my Leaving Cert I wanted to meet a member of the engineering faculty to discuss course content and prior learning, this thirst for knowledge, however, was sadly met with; I’m sorry I’m too busy!
The UCC Open Day for Electrical Engineering consisted mostly of the lecturer telling us how an Engineering degree is remarkably better than any other degree because “You will be an Engineer”! I had the points to take on Electrical Engineering in UCC, but to this day I still have no idea what their engineering course could have involved, so how would any prospective first year know?
And while the open day talk at the IT I attended was immensely better and more insightful, it still totally revolved around career prospects and growth and the course content was totally disregarded. Students, at an open day generally couldn’t care less about the future or their career, for most of them it is still so far away in their mind, at the end of their degrees.
The amount of people in my first year, my friends who never made it to second year was overwhelming, they couldn’t keep up with the assessment layout, the content, the level of maths and physics and the intense workload and this was not their fault, they had no idea what they were entering into and unfortunately, unless you know someone who did the exact same course as you, it is challenging to gain any exact information!
I was the type of student who did my research prior to engineering, but nonetheless each module was a complete surprise as the module descriptor and the actual module application differed greatly.
I can only speak from my experience in Electrical Engineering, but students should be told immediately, if they want a college experience they shouldn’t choose engineering, the timetable is crammed and leaves little room for Monday Club and other nights out. But if they are someone who has a keen interest in applied maths, physics, logic and problem solving then they are in the right place.
IT’s and Universities need to be more transparent about what their courses are offering, outside of career options, to attract the right students. While there will always be those student who progress to college, only for something to do, I believe that once students are fully aware of the type of course or modules that they will be doing, it could counteract the large drop out rates.
Education and knowledge share is key, but that needs to start even before the CAO courses are selected, once the student has entered college life it is too late.