Retention and Student Success in Higher Education

Retention and Student Success in Higher Education

Retention and Student Success in Higher Education

Retention and Student Success in Higher Education


Issues of retention and student success are now topics of great interest. Governmentand the HE sector have woken up to the implications for public finance and equityof students not completing their studies. Core reading for policy makers, highereducation managers, and lecturers.


Student retention and attrition are of policy significance to higher education systems around the world. Governments want higher education to be as effective and efficient as possible, not only because of labour market considerations but also because they have to account to their publics for the investment that they have made on their publics' behalf. When students discontinue their studies involuntarily (because of academic failure or some precipitating cause that is not their responsibility) or more voluntarily, this can be construed in terms of inefficiency in the system. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) hints at this view in its publication of 'Projected learning outcomes and efficiencies' within the UK higher education sector (for example HEFCE 2002).

Retention and attrition are of obvious concern to institutions. Institutions signal in various ways their commitment to the students whom they enrol, and high levels of attrition inevitably raise questions about the fulfilment of that commitment. Keeping retention levels as high as possible is important because of the reputational benefit that accrues from the successes of their students, and because of the economic stability that a predictable student base engenders.

The international literature refers to concepts such as persistence, retention, completion, attrition, dropout, non-completion and the particularly pejorative 'wastage'. Many of these are managerially-oriented – not that there is anything wrong with a managerial perspective. However, a managerial perspective tends to lose sight of the student perspective that can be seen in 'persistence', 'completion' and 'success'.

In our view, the student perspective is at the heart of what Braxton (2000b) calls 'the student departure puzzle'. A lot depends, as we shall argue in the later chapters of this book, on the student's perception of their experience in higher education. This is affected by psychological, sociological and other influences, some of which are well beyond the powers of . . .

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