Completing university in a growing sector: Is equity an issue?

Year: 2015

Author: McMillan, Julie, Edwards, Daniel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper is set against a context of an expanding Australian higher education system and rising numbers of students from key equity groups. There has been much research on access to university by equity groups. The current project offers a new perspective by focusing on university completions among those disadvantaged students who overcome the barriers and succeed in reaching university. The underlying question that guides this research is – ‘Are outcomes equal once students are through the gate of university?’

The specific aims of this paper, which forms part of a larger project funded by National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), are to:
• assess whether disadvantaged students are less likely than other students to complete university,
• identify demographic and enrolment characteristics associated with the likelihood of university completion for students within specific equity groups, and
• explore whether factors relating to student engagement, experience or satisfaction help to explain differences in completion rates between disadvantaged and other students.

Using a Commonwealth administrative database which links an individual student identifier – the Commonwealth Higher Education Student Support Number (CHESSN) – to the enrolment of each domestic bachelor level student in Australia from 2005 onwards, the progression of students can be tracked over numerous years, allowing an analysis of completions among particular groups of students that has not been previously possible. The Department of Education (DOE) was commissioned to collate this administrative data for the project. Completions among low SES, remote, regional and Indigenous students are examined. Key findings are further explored through the analysis of national higher education engagement, experience and graduate student survey data. Information from this project on the factors which influence the completion rates of students within specific equity groups is important in the context of developing strategies to overcome the barriers to completion for higher education students.