Degree completion in short professional courses: does family background matter?

Helland & Hovdhaugen / Journal of Further and Higher Education / December 2021

Many studies have found a greater risk of dropping out among students from modest social origins compared to those from families characterised by high levels of education. This paper investigates social differences in student completion rates in short professional programmes, such as nursing, social work, early childhood and primary school teacher education. These programmes differ from regular undergraduate programmes, both in terms of student recruitment patterns, as more students are recruited from less privileged backgrounds, and through the types of jobs they lead to, which almost always grant the degree holder employment in the public sector. By using Norwegian register data on students starting a higher education degree programme in the period 2000 to 2010, the authors investigated how completion rates in nursing, social work, early childhood and primary school teacher education varied according to gender, grades and parental educational level. They found significant differences based on grades and gender but surprisingly small differences related to parental education. These findings were contrasted with earlier findings regarding patterns of completion and dropout in more disciplinary-oriented programmes. Conceptually, the analyses draw on the work of Tinto and Gambetta.