Re-engaging low socio-economic status students who have withdrawn from university

Year: 2016

Author: Luckman, Michael, Szalkowicz, Giovanna, Edwards, Daniel, Wilson, Jacqueline, Mestan, Kemran

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper reports findings from a project funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training. The paper analyses factors that encourage low socio-economic status students to return to higher education, having previously withdrawn from a Bachelor degree. The study draws on administrative data and interviews with low socio-economic status students admitted to higher education on the basis of partial prior tertiary education, as well as a survey of those students who have withdrawn from university.Students who withdraw from university degrees: often leave for personal reasons; are typically young and from under-represented backgrounds; and are relatively likely to return to the sector in the future. The fact that many withdrawing students already return to study is visible in the national admissions data. Further, Government data shows that the length of time taken to complete a qualification has increased over the last decade and there is evidence to suggest this particularly affects low socio-economic status students. This appears to at least partially be explained by an increasing trend for students to complete their degrees over disconnected blocks of time.The paper outlines the extent to which low socio-economic status students are departing universities but returning to study at a later date. We then explore departed low socio-economic status students’ motivations and factors affecting their re-enrolment. Finally, we analyse the need to redress a dominant institutional culture of stigmatisation and low expectations for withdrawn students. The language of ‘drop-out’, ‘failure’ and ‘non-completion’, for example, still permeates the sector both in Australia and abroad. This paper contributes new insights to inform policies and strategies around communications and marketing, language, scaffolding of qualifications and recognition of prior learning designed to support students to re-enrol in, and re-engage with, higher education.