Australia is seeking to expand participation in higher education – to get more students into the system and keep these people engaged in effective learning through to completion. In 2009 the Australian Government set attainment targets coupled with an explicit mandate to diversify the student mix, in particular by balancing the inclusion of people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. Supporting students’ engagement in higher education is fundamental to the success of these reforms. To support engagement meaningfully requires data on the effectiveness of engagement activities and conditions which goes beyond commonly collected data regarding student satisfaction with the quality of provision. Student engagement is a concept that plays out in different ways at different points of the educational cycle. Initial efforts focus on shaping students aspirations, on building awareness about higher education and influencing participation decisions. Admissions and integration processes play a vital role once students have joined. Once students have their feet on the ground, retaining them and keeping them productively engaged is key to quality and productivity. Finally, institutions and students need to engage in processes that support students in the transition to further scholarship or employment. Supporting students through their academic journey takes on many guises and can be as simple as providing timely and useful information or as complex as a multiservice intervention. For the purposes of this paper, ‘support’ is defined broadly as the university’s interaction with a student, whether it be with academic or service professional staff, that enhances the study experience. It may be in the form of a specific university service, such as counselling or learning assistance, and it can also be in the form of student-teacher interactions, such as constructive feedback on assessments or an out-of class discussion. Individualisation is a key component of successful support – students’ perceptions that the assistance meets their specific needs increases student satisfaction and consequently retention. Drawing on the 2010 Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) – the largest nationally representative set of data on current students yet collected in Australian higher education – this briefing concentrates on the retention of first- and lateryear students. The overall sample size for this analysis is large – 25,950 students, and is weighted to ensure representativeness of the target population – onshore undergraduate students. The briefing takes a broad look at students’ intentions to remain at university, examining rates for different subgroups. It highlights the vital role of student support in engaging students and preventing early departure. There are disjuncts, the data shows, between the support students need and that they receive from their institutions. The results are used to shed light on practices that institutions can use to further support students’ participation in higher education.
Coates, Hamish and Ranson, Laurie, 'Dropout DNA, and the genetics of effective support', AUSSE Research Briefings v.11 June 2011