The access of a greater percentage of the population to higher education and the need for greater levels of educational quality has increased the interest of universities in gaining a deeper understanding of access policies, university dropout and retention strategies, as key indicators for measuring performance (Beaupère et al, 2007; Cingano & Cipollone, 2007; NAO, 2007). Much of the research has pointed on factors determining students’ dropout and retention of university students. However, efforts to understand factors that influence students’ re-enrollment to the university system have been more limited and mainly focused in the Anglo-Saxon context (Ahson et al., 1998; Schatzel et al, 2011).
Based on a review of the literature, we identify two types of studies about re-enrollment. A first approach based on national databases, which analyzes stopout from variables such as age, gender, ethnicity and academic performance (Horn & Berger, 2004, Stratton et al., 2007). The second one based on survey studies of small samples from one or more higher education institutions (Herzog, 2005; Woosley et al, 2005). In both cases, factors associated with re-enrollment are common to the factors in the study of university dropout: demographic, contextual, institutional and personal (Schatzel, 2011).
The differences between the Anglo-Saxon and Spanish university system (Spanish university is crowded, much more homogeneous and with lower students’ mobility (Hernandez, 2010), recommend strengthening the study and understanding of factors determining students’ re-enrollment to the Spanish university system. The purpose of this research is to develop and test a model of some of the factors that explain students’ re-enrollment, specifically, in the Catalan public university system.
In this sense, we explored the contribution of some of the common factors (eg. gender, age, nationality, subject area). Furthermore, we analyze the specific effects of previous academic performance (percentage of credits achieved by students in their degree of origin in relation to total credit) over university dropout. In many studies about dropout and re-enrollment, variables related to academic performance are key elements to explain the likelihood of re-enrollment (Schatzel et al, 2011).
This research has been conducted as part of the project “Students dropout at Catalan Universities” (Gairín, Figuera y Triadó, 2009). The fieldwork was conducted in 2008 with the financial support of the “Catalan University Quality Assurance Agency” (AQU). Data used in this study comes directly from the database UNEIX, which includes dropout data (N =21.473) of the academic year 2005-2006 about university students who began their degree in the academic year 2000-2001 and 2001-2002. The analyzed population consists of 8.053 students who re-enroll into the Catalan university system until the academic year 2005-2006.The dependent variables were re-enrollment, subject area of re-enrollment and early re-enrollment. The explanatory variables were socio-demographics, subject area and students’ performance. Considering its aim, this paper does include multivariate data analysis. After descriptive explorations and initial bivariate analysis, dependence techniques have been considered to make inferential judgments and test separate effects of multiple independent variables.
Results suggest that the majority of dropouts are definitive, as only 37.5% of students re-enroll in the first five years after dropout. However, it is highly important to point out that only 12.7% of students re-enroll in the subject area from prior studies and the 76’9% of students re-enroll in the first year after dropout. These results evidence the existence of a dysfunction and inefficiency of access and guidance systems (ie, admission process, a decision about the degree to attend). However, further research is needed in this area from an integrated institutional database, as well as a survey research with large representative samples that allow us to explore in more detail the factors behind re-enrollment (ie, family educational and socioeconomic level, access marks, previous studies, degree choice). Also, it is needed the use of more specific measures to consider particular dimensions (personal, social and institutional) and to reach a much more complex and profound understanding of university re-enrollment in Catalonia.