University enabling programs while still at school: Supporting the transition of low-SES students from high school to university.

Year: 2017

Author: Vernon, Lynette, Taggart, Andrew, Watson, Stuart

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

University participation rates have been found to be significantly lower in low-SES areas in Australia, compounded by high levels of youth disengagement and a culture that undervalues education. This is characterised in some schools by aggressive counselling to remove students from the direct university entry cohort in an attempt to prop-up the published league tables that highlight the school's median tertiary ranking score. TLC110 (TLC) is an access program designed to provide an alternative entry pathway for low-SES Year 12 students who may not qualify for direct university entry through the conventional Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR). TLC graduates who transition to university demonstrate grade point averages and retention rates on par with other domestic-entry university students (Goggin et al., 2015). This study examined the role of school culture on the transition pathways for high-school students. Specifically, the aim of this study was to test whether teacher and school encouragement for academic rigour associated with students' school satisfaction and increased expectation to go to university, and whether differences were evident for students depending on their pathway of study; ATAR versus TLC. A sample of 252 high-school students (58% female) from 18 high schools, within a low-SES area of outer metropolitan Perth, Western Australia, were surveyed. Self-report measures included; perceptions of school satisfaction, school behaviour, school and teacher encouragement, and university expectations. Structural equation modelling (SEM) substantiated the mediation hypothesis: high levels of teacher encouragement, significantly increased students' level of school satisfaction that, in turn, increased their expectations to go to university but only for students studying on a direct entry pathway. As well high levels of students' university expectations measured at the beginning of the year supported higher levels of university expectations at the end of the year. Although teacher encouragement for academic rigour was significantly associated with both school satisfaction and university expectations for both pathway groups the magnitude was higher for students studying TLC. Qualitative data was also collected (N=11) via focus groups and telephone interviews to contextualise these quantitative results. Findings will be discussed in terms of the benefits of university enabling programs for students in secondary school as a means to support aspirations for university for students who do not have the opportunity to study a direct entry pathway to university.