The dropout of higher education students is a issue that affects institutions with different sizes and characteristics, all around the world and its relevance is due the resulting financial and social damage. Academic papers have been published addressing conceptual and methodological aspects of research and many have been devoted to studying the reasons for evasion, as well as institutional strategies to face the challenge of minimizing it. In Brazil, attrition in basic education has been intensively studied, what did not happen in relation to higher education. In this work are presented quantitative results on student retention and the qualitative findings on the causes that led students to leave their courses. Were organized and analyzed data from 120 different courses offered by the São Paulo State University, a public institution with 37,000 enrolled students, spread across campuses in 25 cities. In the present study we sought to focus on the dropout of the course; was not investigated the leaving of the institution or of the university system. For the qualitative analysis was computed, for each course, in each year, over a period of 15 years (2000-2014), the number of students who failed to renew the registration. In general the data show that the retention of students, in the period, was significantly higher for courses of the exact science areas and of the engineering, compared with courses in the fields of humanities and biological sciences. Also teacher training courses and those offered in night shifts have relatively high dropout rates. Data on evasion causes were obtained by applying online questionnaire to dropouts students in 2012 and 2013. From our studies some conclusions can be explained: indecision as to the initial choice and disappointment with the present course are seen as strong reasons for leaving it; pedagogical aspects (methodology of teaching, curriculum and learning assessment process) outweigh in importance the aspects related to physical infrastructure (laboratories, libraries, etc.); more than half of the respondents state that they have enrolled in different course from that which abandoned; among those who enroll at another institution / course the determinants of choice are the academic prestige and the closer location of the family home. Correlations between the quantitative and qualitative results for the last three years, are found. For example, strong dropout rates in the exact sciences courses has some association with poor academic performance in initial basic disciplines (first semester or year). In addition, the low retention of students in teacher training courses, in part, derives from the low social prestige and relatatively low financial income provided by the basic education teaching in the country. Other correlations and possible institucional strategies to face the phenomenon of evasion will be discussed.

[1] TINTO, V. Leaving College: rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.