A university experience program addressing a national concern on declining interest in university participation

Year: 2016

Author: Penman, Joy, Webby, Brian, Jones, Martin

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Participation in higher education can confer benefits such as; increased earning prospects, introduction to a rich cultural and social milieu, entry to certain occupations, and opportunities to learn and practice professional-level skills and processes. However, the opportunity to pursue university is neither equal nor equitable. Young people living in regional and remote Australia are under-represented in the Australian university system and, consequently, efforts have been made to encourage these students to consider attending university. A regionally based university campus is ideally placed to reach out to potential students in its locality and the authors and colleagues have participated in a university experience program for Year 10 students from 4 schools in the region. The program aims to provide information, learning experiences, interaction with current students and staff, familiarity with facilities, to develop planning and goal-setting, and to raise participants’ educational aspirations. The program with its activities is viewed as a change initiative, which can lead to desired goals being achieved. Embedded under the theory of change, the program accomplishes this by first identifying the desired long-term goals and then works back from these to identify the outcomes that must be in place for the goals to occur. Ultimately for a program to work, there needs to be an alignment between target group, aims/objectives, planned and actual activities, theory of change and outcomes.The impact of the program on students’ personal and professional aspirations was assessed using an evaluative tool called Raising Aspirations Young People’s Questionnaire. Responses to 7-point Likert items repeated at 3 time points were combined into a Likert score and statistically assessed in a mixed effects linear regression. The results were equivocal; students showed a statistically significant increase in personal aspirations, but only a marginal increase in professional aspirations. The program was found to be very effective for students from a remote area school and had less impact for students from outer regional schools. Overall, students generally had high aspiration levels prior to the program activities, and showed a modest increase (statistically significant but perhaps not clinically significant or meaningful) in aspiration post-program. The results may indicate that the program should be reshaped for regional schools, but there are many benefits of the current design that were not measured.