As new matriculants prepare to head off to higher education for the first time, many are having second thoughts about their chosen course or institution. While feelings of uncertainty are healthy and normal, an education expert also warns parents and prospective students to rather look at all their options now and change course right away if necessary, instead of taking a wait-and-see approach.
“SA’s first year dropout rate is significant, but at an individual level, this costly outcome could, in many instances, have been avoided if prospective students took more time to ensure they investigated all offerings in terms of institutions and qualifications,” says Dr Felicity Coughlan, director of The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education provider.
She says that it is often the case that learners applied for the same qualifications or at the same institutions as their friends, opted for a standard 3-year degree without knowing much about what it entails, or decided on their course because of pressure and expectations from others.
“There is so much research evidence that success in first year requires that students are doing something that has meaning to them and not just what they have always been expected to do. So if there is any chance that there is a better fit available, even at this late stage, we encourage students and their families to make the move now. This applies equally to high performing students who are often the ones who have the most choices and yet still find themselves doing something they do not actually want to do or being somewhere that does not match their personal needs.”
The pressure – particularly for good students – to pursue a traditional degree at a traditional institution is very strong. Now that they have their excellent results in their hands, those with an interest in a career focused professional qualification such as accounting, law or teaching, or whose interests lie in a new and exciting career path such as brand management, digital marketing, network engineering, game design and development, and application and cloud development, should take this last opportunity to confirm that they are making the right choices for themselves. This means looking beyond the public system too.
Private education options
“Private higher education is increasingly becoming the study route of choice, in line with international trends, for students who want quality workplace-oriented and recognised qualifications, niche degrees, smaller class sizes and modern campuses.”
Coughlan points out that because South Africa has a single quality assurance system and one National Qualifications Framework, any institution offering a registered and accredited qualification – whether public or private – is offering a qualification of equal standing, which means that prospective students may have many and more exciting options than they may have realised.
And while there is no state subsidy for private institutions, which means that the cost of private higher education is still sometimes higher than at public universities, this cost is often offset in the long run because of improved results.
“Private institutions are often far more affordable from a broader perspective than members of the public seem to realise. And because these campuses are mostly relatively small with class sizes rarely exceeding 100 students, individual focus and therefore higher success rates are the norm.
“As a result, proportionally more students graduate, making the overall educational experience a real value for money opportunity.”
Assess, reevaluate and act
Coughlan says choices about tertiary education must be based on a thorough assessment of the fit between personal aspiration, circumstances and the institutional choices available. And if a prospective student is already having second thoughts, the time re-assess is now, while there is still time.
This advice also holds true for those matrics who may have been pleasantly surprised with their results, achieving a Bachelor’s pass when they didn’t expect it, or achieving top scores when they expected more modest ones.
“If you haven’t yet made study plans, and now you did better than you thought you would, or you were too late and now do not have a place, it makes sense to use the month that you have now to be sure about what you are doing.
“Ultimately, matrics should honestly determine whether they are excited about the degree they are soon to embark on, and that they are signed up with a higher education institution that will give them what they need. If the answers are not resoundingly yes and yes, the following weeks are the opportune time to investigate all options and change direction before it is too late.”