Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Improving Student Preparedness and Retention-Perceptions of Staff at Two Universities

Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Improving Student Preparedness and Retention-Perceptions of Staff at Two Universities

Article excerpt


In 2010 the Australian government provided funding under the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) to assist universities to achieve a 20 percent participation rate for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This funding has allowed universities the opportunity to implement projects towards this end. This study explores the reactions of staff employed in devolving HEPPP projects within Deakin University (DU) and Southern Cross University (SCU). Both universities have a diverse student body, with participation by regional and low socioeconomic status (SES) students at higher proportions than the national higher education average. DU has used its HEPPP funds to establish the Deakin University Participation and Partnerships Program (DUPPP), which comprises community, school and technical/vocational education and training partnerships, embedded academic skills programs, and inclusive support programs. In contrast, SCU, through its i-OnTrack project, is developing a tracking system that will follow cohorts of students coming from diverse backgrounds in order to identify those factors in their life that either impede or boost academic excellence. Key informant interviews of academic staff at both these universities (N=18) were thematically analyzed and compared. Our recommendations for institutional practice across Australia arising from this analysis include: the need to maintain appropriate resourcing for academic staff (especially for casual tutors) to support the kinds of programs that make a difference, to commence intervention programs early at secondary school and prior to the students entering university, and for intervention programs to target all students in order to capture any students who may not be obviously at risk.

Keywords: attrition, low socioeconomic status students, university case study, preparedness, student retention

1. Introduction

Higher education is frequently perceived as an opportunity to improve one's life and plays a fundamental role in improving the SES of individuals, their families and the community (Valentine et al., 2009). However, the dream of university education is not equally realised for everyone. For example, the enrolment and completion patterns of lower SES students do not reflect this ideal. Student attrition is high among this specific cohort. Student attrition is defined as reduced student enrolment due to university transfers or 'dropouts', and has been a long-standing problem for universities around the world (Willcoxson, Cotter & Joy, 2011).

Prior to the 1970s, student attrition was considered confirmation of an institution's demanding curriculum (Thelin, 2010). However, the financial losses incurred due to student attrition started to affect educational institutions. In addition, it resulted in social costs to individuals and society. Consequently, academic leaders were urged to review their institutional data, administrative procedures and institutional culture to understand better why so many students failed to complete their courses (ACT Inc., 2010; Armstrong, Campbell & Brogan, 2009; Conner, 2009; Hawley & Harris, 2005; Lillibridge, 2008; Schurr, Ruble, Palomba, & Pickerill, 1997).

The development of student tracking and prediction methodologies has been followed by the extensive implementation of intervention programs (Bashford, 2008; Blanc, DeBuhr & Martin, 1983), with most strategies designed to assist those students identified as being at risk of dropping out (Cabrera et al., 2006). However, there is a lack of a comprehensive tested theory of student attrition and retention (Cabrera et al., 2006; Valentine et al., 2009). This deficit has created considerable difficulties not only for comparing studies, but also for advising the best approach for maximum impact and value for money. There is also a significant gap in the knowledge concerning the impact that these interventions have on student success. …

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