Non-completion, Transfer, and Dropout of Traditional and Non-traditional Students in Germany

Abstract

A considerable proportion of students in Germany has graduated from vocational training before entering higher education. With this paper we examined how these students progress through higher education. We argue that successful graduation is the result of a sequence of decisions and decompose the trajectories through higher education to distinguish non-completion, transfer and dropout. We used the German Educational Panel Study (NEPS-SC6), a retrospective life course study, and applied logistic regression models. Our results suggest that students with vocational qualifications are slightly more likely to graduate from the initially chosen program than traditional students, but this advantage diminishes after controlling individual and institutional characteristics. After non-completion of the initially chosen program, the traditional students are more likely to remain in higher education and transfer to another program, whereas students with vocational certificates rather choose to leave higher education. Taking the entire trajectory together, our bivariate analyses reveal a slightly higher risk of leaving higher education without graduation among the students with pre-tertiary vocational training. Again, this association disappears in models that control for individual and institutional characteristics.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Next to these two main types of higher education, the German system also comprises a number of specialized types of institutions, such as, for example, Dual Academies (Duale Hochschulen), Academies of Public Administration and Management (Verwaltungsfachochschulen) and Universities of the Armed Forces (Hochschule der Bundeswehr). These programs usually combine an apprenticeship or employment with higher education and hence cannot unambiguously be treated as higher education.

  2. 2.

    Note that these schools are, unlike the vocational schools described earlier, upper secondary schools which maintain the curriculum of general upper secondary schools with an additional focus on business, engineering/technology, health/care or agriculture/nutrition.

  3. 3.

    Admission of these “non-traditional” students in fact usually is based on vocational qualifications as well. Often a vocational training certificate plus work experience or specialists training is required and admission usually is restricted to related fields.

  4. 4.

    Brändle and Lengfeld (2015, 2017) show contradicting results on a cohort of students (B.A. social economics) at the University of Hamburg.

  5. 5.

    The higher education system of the GDR followed planned economy principles in admission and graduation of students. Especially the selection of students was based on academic merits, but also on compliance with the socialist government values, which lead to a highly selected student population and low dropout rates. We do, however, include Eastern German citizens who entered higher education after the reunion.

  6. 6.

    Transfers of type of institution are all transfers between universities and universities of applied sciences.

  7. 7.

    A transfer of type of degree without a change of field of study most typically occurs when students decide to enter teacher training in their field or when they started a teacher training and decide to transfer to a program that does not result in a teaching license.

  8. 8.

    Note that the typical age of obtaining a traditional general Abitur is 19 for the birth cohorts in our sample. The typical age of obtaining a lower secondary leaving certificate is 16 years, whereas the typical duration of a vocational training course is 3 years. This is to illustrate that the group with pre-tertiary vocational training is not by definition older. The average transition age however, is approximately 4 years higher (without vocational training: 20.6; with vocational training: 24.7).

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Acknowledgements

This paper uses data from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS): Starting Cohort 6—Adults (Adult Education and Lifelong Learning), https://doi.org/10.5157/neps:sc6:7.0.0. The NEPS data collection is part of the Framework Programme for the Promotion of Empirical Educational Research, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and supported by the Federal States. The work on this paper has been generously funded by the German Science Foundation within the Priority Programme 1646 “Education as a lifelong process”.

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The funding was provided by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Science Foundation, Grant No. TI 766/1-1).

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Tieben, N. Non-completion, Transfer, and Dropout of Traditional and Non-traditional Students in Germany. Res High Educ 61, 117–141 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-019-09553-z

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Keywords

  • Dropout
  • Non-completion
  • Non-traditional students
  • Vocational training
  • Germany