The impact of critical life events on HE students from equity groups

Year: 2019

Author: Macqueen, Suzanne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A focus on widening participation in Higher Education (HE) in recent years has considered inequities in HE systems in Australia and elsewhere. Research has focused on various equity groups including students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, mature age students, Indigenous students, those from regional and rural areas, and those who are First in Family to attend University. Numerous factors that may influence the success of such students have been investigated, including prior academic achievement and cultural capital. Much of the research focuses on the students only as students, while non-traditional students are not only students and are not solely defined by their student identities. They are also parents, children, grandchildren, friends, partners, citizens and employees. It is limiting and unrealistic to study the experiences of non-traditional students in isolation from these other roles and the situations that arise accordingly. To date there has been little consideration of life events and their effect on student persistence generally, yet these have a notable effect on student progress. Personal reasons are often the cause of attrition for students, and withdrawing students are often from under-represented backgrounds. This paper uses data from a longitudinal narrative study examining the experiences of non-traditional students in a regional Australian university. Data collection through an initial survey began early in their first year of enrolment, and interviews were conducted over four years as they moved into, through, and in one case out of their studies. Narratives of the students’ journeys were constructed from the interview data. Bourdieu’s thinking tools of habitus, capital and field were employed to analyse the factors affecting the students’ journeys. This paper focuses on the impact of critical life events on student journeys through HE. Findings have implications for institutional support of students.