Plastic and Accidental Students: A Study of Student Early Departure at a Leading University in Poland

Thursday, February 23, 2017
12:00pm to 1:00pm (bring your own lunch)
Library, Evans Hall 768 
Visiting Scholar, CSHE, Poland & Assistant Professor, University of Warsaw, Institute of Sociology


Despite success stories of higher education dropouts such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg, student attrition is still commonly perceived as a problem. Non-completion bears costs for all stakeholders: students, institutions, and the state. As yet, there has been very little research on the matter of student persistence in Poland, a country that experienced huge expansion of higher education in last quarter of the century. Since 1990, the elitist system of Polish higher education, serving just 10% of the most talented secondary education graduates, has grown in terms of the number of students, leading to net enrollment rate reaching 40%. However, the massified system is not efficient in terms of completion rates. On the national level, the proportion of students who enter tertiary education and graduate is lower in Poland than in most of OECD countries. So far there has been very little research on student early departure patterns at the institutional level. The presentation summarizes the results of a mixed methods research on dropout behavior at the University of Warsaw, a leading higher education institution in Poland. The study includes administrative data analysis, a survey, and qualitative in-depth interviews and aims at identifying the types of student attrition and their underlying causes.


Tomasz Zając is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley. He is also an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Sociology, as well as a Researcher at the Quality Evaluation Unit (PEJK), University of Warsaw (UW), Poland. Moreover, he is a research team member in the Polish National Graduate Career Tracking Program run by the National Information Processing Institute (OPI) for the Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Poland.

Tomasz Zając holds a Ph.D. in Sociology. His research is focused on student experience, educational paths, and early careers of students and graduates. He took part in a series of research projects including surveys among various groups comprising the UW’s community: applicants, students, doctoral students, members of the faculty, and graduates. Most recently, he took part in a major research projects aiming at developing and implementing a methodology of graduate tracking research based on administrative data of the Social Insurance Institution in Poland.

During his stay at CSHE he is examining the relation between students’ experience and their educational decisions. The study is based on the data coming from The Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey.