Features In Focus

Dropping out

The Foundation Year Program has been losing students at a rapid rate, going from two drop outs in 2009/10 to 18 in this last year. Sabina Wex talked to students to find out why.

After learning about Plato’s Philosopher King, Carrie (not real name) noticed how FYP students felt as though they were at the same level as Plato’s intellectual ruler.

“I think that people kind of started to espouse a kind of pretentiousness and sense of superiority because we felt that we were reaching the highest intellectual peak,” Carrie said. “I can’t get on board with (that) because I think it’s kind of ironic and demeans the whole point to philosophy.”

Carrie didn’t return to King’s after the winter break.

FYP lost 18 students from Dec. 1, 2013 to March 1, 2014, according to a draft from King’s enrolment management. Withdrawal rates have been slowly increasing for four years, with two students dropping out in 2009/10, to 10 students leaving in 2012/13, to 18 students gone this year.

Carrie enjoys philosophy, but felt that King’s limited her ability to interpret it. She expected FYP to incorporate history and literature to allow for a better understanding of the texts, but she realized earlier on that philosophy was the main focus.

“When writing a FYP essay, there was only the opportunity to speak from the writer’s perspective, and in many ways just reiterate what the writer was saying,” Carrie said. “Whereas if you try to inflict any opinion on it—and even if you did back it up very specifically—because you are contradicting the text, you are automatically wrong.”

Marie (not real name) also dropped out of FYP this year, but in February. She had seen the reading list for FYP and knew that there would be constant essay writing, but she said she didn’t realize how hard FYP would be.

“I literally felt like I came from grade nine and went to university,” Marie said. “It just always felt like I couldn’t get a good mark.”

Hannah Martin, who is currently studying photography at NSCAD, left FYP this year (Photo: Paul Rebar)

At an enrolment town hall meeting on March 31, FYP director Daniel Brandes recommended adding a writing sample to the admissions process. Brandes argued that an applicant’s writing sample can show her potential to learn how to write a strong FYP paper. By admitting stronger applicants, the students will likely be less stressed when writing papers.

“Anything we can do to be precise in terms of making sure that students are going to be successful here is a good thing,” King’s registrar Elizabeth Yeo said. “(But) we need to make sure that we’re not inadvertently setting up a barrier to students coming here.”

Both Marie and Carrie cited mental health issues as one of the factors that led them to withdraw from FYP. Yeo, who also sits on the enrolment management committee, said that many students have recommended that the school provide more mental health resources.

At the enrolment town hall, FYP associate director Susan Dodd mentioned that many FYP students visit Dal Counselling throughout the winter. But because of Dalhousie and King’s high demand for counselling, Dal Counselling can only service students in the short-term.

Alex Fraser also left FYP to study Nautical Sciences at Dalhousie (Photo: Paul Rebar)

Yeo said she believes that early intervention with students is a good way to prevent more withdrawals from FYP. This year, Dodd was completely focused on student affairs. Yeo said that the communication between Dodd and the FYP tutors gave many students the opportunity to speak with Dodd about their options for success in the program.

“I realized part way through that I valued anonymity and I didn’t have that,” Carrie said, “and I didn’t really have any of the space I needed.”

Marie, who comes from Nova Scotia, said she felt like she had “to be from Toronto” to fit in with other King’s students. She added that skirts and dresses were fancy for her high school, but at King’s, it wasn’t an anomaly.

When Marie told her friends that she was going to leave King’s, she used a personal problem to cover up that she couldn’t afford to stay at King’s. The school hadn’t given her any bursaries.

“I wasn’t going to stay and waste more of my money that I saved forever if I’m just going to fail,” Marie said.

Yeo said that in the past five to seven years, she has been told that more and more students have dropped out of other universities.

“Anything that’s happening at King’s seems to be reflecting a larger trend,” Yeo said.

The recession has made post secondary education a financial burden for some families and many students must obtain part-time jobs to continue their education. Yeo worries that balancing a job with school creates more stress for students.

At the enrolment town hall meeting, KSU president Michaela Sam, who was also part of the enrolment management committee, mentioned that the school wants to provide more on-campus jobs, but has few resources to do so.

Both Marie and Carrie are working full-time jobs now. Marie is unsure of her plans for next year, but Carrie will attend a different university next year.

“FYP is such a fantastic program for the right person,” Carrie said, “and I just wasn’t that person.”
Editors’ Note
Marie and Carrie asked that their names removed from this piece because they share personal information about their mental health and personal/family finances.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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