For many Brazilians, the dream of graduating from university remains distant. Only 4 of every 10 students entering a program come out with a diploma in up to 8 years. The Higher Education Census data of the INEP show that the abandonment rate does not differ much between public and private universities – 48% and 63%, respectively – and either among face-to-face modalities (60%) and distance (64% ). Although dramatic, these data are relative to the year 2019, and don’t even capture the abandonment rates related to the pandemic.
It is a serious problem of efficiency for educational institutions, and even worse for students who invest resources and time without achieving the desired training. In a country where a higher education diploma can double salary expectations, abandonment costs represent even more. The INEP census does not offer details regarding the causes of abandonment – but it is possible to assume that many students need to reconcile studies and work (58% are enrolled in courses in the night shift), and face difficulties in adapting between school and higher education. These difficulties are particularly common for first-generation students (who are the first of their family to study at the university level), which correspond to about 35% of graduates each year.
While it is common for different types of institutions and study modes, this low graduation rate can not be considered natural. The average abandonment of higher education in OECD countries is half of the Brazilian – 31%. Mexico, which has a higher education system comparable to the Brazilian in terms of structure and enrollment, has a 40% abandonment rate. The index contributes to Brazil having one of the lowest percentages of adults with higher education diplomas – 17% of the population, well behind the 28% of the OECD countries.
Many of these countries have developed support structures that allow the student a quieter transition from secondary to higher education. In addition to supporting the transition, these services offer counseling and mentoring for students who may be facing difficulties that go beyond academic issues such as financial needs or family problems. These services are generally organized within an area of support to the student, common in most universities in the US and Canada. This area also promotes integration events and supports self-managed groups of students who organize in support networks or networks of interest. The goal is to prevent the student from dropping out by feeling overwhelmed or not feeling as belonging to the university environment.
In some institutions, these support offices have become central to the academic experience, offering personalized service and even making the bridge between students and teachers when needed. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is an inspiring example, especially for private universities in Brazil. In view of an older student audience, which often reconciles full-time work with study, the institution has developed a structure of tutors working individually with each student – performing monthly or weekly checks, if necessary, and helping in the structuring of study programs that fit with their other responsibilities.
Of course, a personalized service structure like this has a cost. However, considering the challenge and the high cost of acquiring new students for higher education in Brazil (only 23% of the vacancies offered by private institutions are filled every year), retention investments bring benefits to both the institution and to graduation rates. Support structures increase the efficiency of student teaching programs and satisfaction, and better completion rates may even be used as a competitive differential when attracting new students. On the other end, for students, relying on a support service increases self-confidence, resilience, and the potential for returning your investment in development itself.