Student attrition in early childhood teacher education programs

Year: 1996

Author: Elliott, Alison

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Patterns of student retention and attrition have been of increasing interest to the higher education sector in recent years. In a changing higher education climate demographic projections are increasingly important to institutional academic and resource planning. In terms of the professions, especially vocationally oriented professions such as teaching and nursing, enrolling and retaining a supply of potential employees is critical for continuing professional viability and quality. There has been considerable research into student progression and retention but, with increasingly diverse students bodies, pinpointing experiences most important in facilitating progression and persistence for particular types of students has become increasingly difficult. There have been few attempts to create detailed pictures of persistence and attrition within specific courses and student cohorts, despite McConnell Castle’s (1991) claim that situational uniqueness must be better understood if institutions are to implement effective strategies to increase the likelihood of student retention. The purpose of the present study was to illuminate the complexity of the attrition process through an in-depth exploration of the experiences of a recent group of students who withdrew from an early childhood teacher education program within their first year of enrolment. The study sought to delve beneath the surface of their decision making to probe the complexity of beliefs, events, and motivations that influenced these women’s lives and their subsequent decisions to discontinue self-education. In recent years, the student body within this program has changed from being predominantly female, Anglo-Australian school leavers under 20 years of age to culturally diverse, predominantly mature women from lower socio-economic backgrounds, with a range of pretertiary experiences and significant family and related responsibilities. At the same time, attrition rates have increased dramatically. Of the 1995 intake of 126 students, half had withdrawn or taken extended leave of absence by the end of the first academic year.