Cork course is a lifeline for college dropouts

Students drop out of their college courses for many reasons. But NICOLA DEPUIS says there is help and advice out there for them, including an innovative new course recently set up by Cork College of Commerce
Cork course is a lifeline for college dropouts

CHOICES: But there is help forstudents,says Helen Ryan (inset), Principal ofCork College ofCommerce

IF you have already dropped out of your college course this year, or you fear you might have to in the future, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.

There has always been a percentage of college students in both Further and Higher Education who have dropped out of their courses before graduating.

To be clear, Further Education is education and training between post-primary level and Higher Education, and Higher Education is degree and post-graduate oriented courses provided in universities and colleges of technology (CITs).

Figures by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) reveal that more than 6,000 students in Ireland drop out of college in their first year, with the highest rates in construction, computer science, and engineering. Some 24% of students don’t complete their courses and the levels are higher among men, as well as students on lower-points courses and those attending institutes of technology.

One of the main reasons cited is choosing the wrong course. Many of these students return to education in later years more confident of their areas of interest. It is, after all, quite difficult to know what you’re best suited to and passionate about in your teenage years.

There is a pressure in Ireland to have a ‘job for life’ and the idea of changing careers isn’t often encouraged. However, in other European countries like Sweden, Norway, and Germany, changing careers and indeed, the idea of ‘the lifelong learner’ is better embraced. Add to this the immense pressure fed by TV and film industries, which equates college life with binge drinking, and it isn’t difficult to imagine why one’s first year in college can end up a blur of questionable choices.

Dr Derek O’Byrne, vice-president for academic affairs and registrar of Waterford Institute of Technology, believes dropping out from college can be a positive move and “mobility between courses can create graduates with extra knowledge and experience”.

One of the problems facing the government, as well as the medical and psychiatric systems, is a lack of interdisciplinary approaches to problems that may best be solved in a more open-minded and less linear fashion. Therefore, graduates with a more rounded inter-disciplinary education can only be a good thing.

There are many examples of college drop-outs who left their courses to pursue other ambitions and changed modern society — Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), TV presenter Oprah Winfrey and singer Lady Gaga. Not forgetting musician Kanye West, whose iconic album The College Dropout in 2014 sold over four million copies. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate from Chicago’s School of Art Institute.

When U.S musician and entrepreneur Jay-Z was declared by Forbes as hip hop’s first billionaire earlier this year, he was asked if he felt insecure about not having a degree when he enters a boardroom filled with lawyers and MBAs (Masters of Business Administration). His response was “Never. They’ve lived a bunch of words but I’ve lived a bunch of life.”

Some students withdraw from courses after being offered a paid job, but many more are left confused and isolated, wondering what to do next. Aware of this, Cork College of Commerce on Morrison’s Island recently revealed a new, innovative plan for students who may feel at a loss after withdrawing from a course they began in September. Called ReDirect, the programme is designed to help these former students re-engage and re-think their career/education plans by providing an opportunity to review and assess options and pathways.

As part of this, they build a baseline of key skills and develop a toolbox for moving forward, whether that be toward another course in the next academic year or to employment. Course modules include Career Planning, Personal Effectiveness, LinkedIn training, Healthy Living and Course/Work Shadowing.

Cork College of Commerce, established in 1908, currently has 2,000 full-time students. While it isn’t often the first choice for students who may have failed to meet the necessary requirements for their chosen university course, it’s worth noting that in a recent study by the education authorities, graduates from apprenticeships and Post-Leaving Cert courses were rated as highly as graduates from universities and third-level colleges. Surveying more than 700 employers in Ireland, the study found satisfaction levels with the quality of higher education graduates were at 86%, with further education and training graduates at 84%. When these figures were broken down, employers rated further education graduates higher than college graduates in areas such as teamwork, commercial awareness, and entrepreneurialism.

Regarding the ReDirect programme, Helen Ryan, Principal of the Cork College of Commerce, said: “We were worried that young people will fall out of the system.”

She says she has been struck by the variety of reasons given for withdrawals. “Some of our own students have withdrawn from a course for physical or mental health issues or because they’re overwhelmed by the busy nature of a full-time course. We thought this might allow them to get something from the year rather than feeling they failed in any way.”

Helen says the ReDirect programme aims to cater to all students who have left universities, ITs and colleges of Further Education. “We had students or their parents contacting us from inside and outside the college with the general feeling that they did not know which way to turn after withdrawing from a course. It is too late to commence them on one of our programmes so they are all left in a limbo of being unable to progress until the next academic year. They may also be unsure of what direction they are going in and we thought we could help with that.”

The idea for the course took shape during a CETB Erasmus trip to the Netherlands, where Helen encountered a similar programme to ReDirect and decided to test it here in Cork.

So if you’re at home feeling dejected after dropping out of college, or you feel you may need to dropout before the year is over, take comfort in the fact you’re not alone, there is help out there and this is only one step on your journey.

The ReDirect programme consists of two three-month sessions starting from mid-November to the end of December with the second session taking place between February and April. Classes take place from 9am to 12pm, Wednesday to Friday. The overall cost of the course is €50. For more information on ReDirect please contact 021-4222100 or email for an application form.

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