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Slide 1 - Improving Student Retention and Student Success in Higher Education Professor Rajen Padayachi rajenpadayachi19@gmail.com
Slide 2 - In this presentation we will: Consider what research tells us are the factors likely to impact on student retention; Review a range of enhancements to curriculum design, delivery and assessment that can improve retention; Prioritise actions and interventions that can be implemented in local contexts.
Slide 3 - Retention is of increasing importance because of: Financial imperatives, since universities lose money if students drop out; Quality Assurance agency concerns about high levels of attrition; But more importantly because of The high emotional and financial cost to individual students of dropping out, particularly if they have come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Slide 4 - SA CHE stats advise us that student drop out is likely to be linked with: Coming from poorly resourced primary and secondary schools; English being a foreign language; Being ill prepared undergraduate students.
Slide 5 - Retention rates also correlate with social class There are higher rates of non-completion among students from a disadvantaged background; Post-1994 universities tend to recruit more students from diverse backgrounds and generally their retention rates are lower; The relationship between entry characteristics and non-completion is very strong. Source: CHE data cited in 2004
Slide 6 - Social class is linked to the kind of universities students attend Elite universities– UJ, Wits, UCT- generally recruit students with higher A level scores who are more likely to be from middle/upper-class backgrounds; They recruit fewer disadvantaged students, with entry constituted by lower Grade 12 symbols; These elite universitis have larger endowments and often more substantial and better maintained estates and resources, so have more background funding for student support.
Slide 7 - Students at these universities are likely to possess The cultural and social capital that are supportive of success; Sources of financial support that are less available to those from lower socio-economic groups; Less fear of debt than students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Better residential facilities.
Slide 8 - However, it’s worth noting that Some pre-1994 universities currently have outstanding records on recruitment of non-traditional students and on retention; Some post-1994 HEIs perform well below their ‘benchmarks’; Some students from disadvantaged backgrounds have succeeded in spite of challenges.
Slide 9 - CHE reported that for full-time and part time students, factors which influenced drop out were: Poor quality of university experience Inability to cope with course demands Unhappy with social environment Wrong choice of course Financial need Dissatisfaction with some part of university provision. Inadequate availability of study material and /or electronic support infrastructure.
Slide 10 - Additionally, withdrawal or failure is more probable when: Students have chosen ‘the wrong programme’; Students lack commitment and/or interest; Students’ expectations are not met; The quality of teaching is poor; The academic culture is unsupportive (even hostile) to learning; Students experience financial difficulty; and Demands for other commitments supervene. Inadequate accommodation.
Slide 11 - Poor attendance also correlates with drop out: Research shows associations between weak attendance patterns and attrition; Whatever the cause, not being there exacerbates other problems with study; Endeavours to monitor and follow-up poor attendance has high pay off in terms of improving retention. Most universities now have or are developing attendance policies For me, the real issue is engagement rather than attendance.
Slide 12 - Further factors identified by CHE The pressures of rising student numbers and reduced state funding have led to a decline in opportunities for staff-student support; Large number of student in classes. Higher education is becoming more impersonal; Modularisation has led to semester-end (rather than year-end) assessment, which has led to a reduction in the amount of formative assessment being given to students - and formative assessment is a critically important part of the learning process.
Slide 13 - Senior students drop out too The “senior” students were less likely than their younger peers to cite matters related to wrong choice of field of study. ‘Senior' entrants tend to have taken time over a decision that is often buttressed by their experience of life outside the educational system. Basically, they know what they want to do. On the evidence of this study, however, these students more frequently run into difficulty with finance and family.
Slide 14 - What can universities do? Whereas a higher education institution can not do much about students’ background circumstances, it is probable that there is more academic failure in SA higher education than there should be. There seems to be scope in institutions for improving the ways in which they support students’ learning – and hence for reducing the incidence of academic failure. In the end, this comes down to an orientation towards the enhancement of the quality of the student experience.
Slide 15 - Retention of international students: some important considerations Is recruitment undertaken to ensure students have the potential to succeed? Is induction framed appropriately to welcome international students? Are steps taken proactively to ensure international students have a good chance of integrating with their study cohorts? Is the right kind of support offered (language, crisis support, befriending etc?)
Slide 16 - What can HEIs do at a strategic level to minimise failure? Have an institution-wide policy commitment to students' development; Have in place structures and processes consistent with this policy; Ensure that new students enter with, or have the opportunity to acquire, the skills needed for academic success; Run programmes in which the emphasis is on maximising students' development – Study methods, time management, tutorials, English mediation, Psychology support.
Slide 17 - Other institutional tactics Acknowledge through practice that support for students' academic development needs to be augmented by support for their personal development; and See retention as an integral part of educational policy and practice, and not a freestanding initiative. Set realistic academic gaols: pass rates, post graduation rates – Honours, Masters and Doctoral , publication outputs.
Slide 18 - Enhancements to curriculum design and delivery: we can: Explore how we can best use the first half of the first semester to induct students into good study patterns and practices to enhance learning and improve retention ; Reconsider the kinds of activities students engage with the maximum ‘learning by doing’; Rethink the way in which we use lecture periods to include activity as well as delivery; Consider how we can best make use of technologies to support learning and engagement.
Slide 19 - What can we do in the first six weeks? Enable students to feel part of a cohort rather than a number of a list; Help students acclimatise to the new learning context in which they find themselves; Familiarise them with the language and culture of the subject area they are studying ; Foster the information literacy and other skills that students will need to succeed; Guide them on where to go for help as necessary. Assist them to assimilate e-learning ability- MOOC, BLACKBOARD.
Slide 20 - Mapping out the programme as a whole: some questions Are you ensuring that students are immersed in the subject they have come to study from the outset? Is induction a valuable and productive introduction to the course? Do students have a positive and balanced experience across the programme? Do they have mentors? Are there points in the academic year when there doesn’t seem to be much going on (e.g. an extended Christmas break) when going home (and not coming back) seems like a good option?
Slide 21 - Mapping assessment Are formative assessments undertaken throughout the course, or is everything ‘sudden death’ end-point- summative? Is there excessive bunching of assignments in different modules that is highly stressful for students and unmanageable staff? Are there plenty of opportunities for formative assessment, especially early on? Are students over-assessed? When you have introduced innovative assignments, have they been as well or instead of existing ones?
Slide 22 - Mapping progression Is there a coherent model of progression across the student life-cycle from induction to graduation? Do you manage transitions from year one to year two and year two to year three to ensure students remain committed and engaged? Is there some continuity in the sources of student support throughout the course (e.g. personal tutors)? Are students offered support and guidance in relation to personal development and employability? Are “at risk” students identified and supported at beginning of programme?
Slide 23 - Assessment and its impact on retention “Roughly two-thirds of premature departures take place in, or at the end of, the first year of full-time study in SA. Anecdotal evidence from a number of institutions indicates that early poor performance can be a powerful disincentive to continuation, with students feeling that perhaps they were not cut out for higher education after all – although the main problems are acculturation and acclimatisation to studying.” Implications: assessment in the first semester is critical: it should be formative, informative, developmental and remediable
Slide 24 - The uses of computer-assisted formative assessment (CAA). While CAA is used in some contexts summatively, many would argue that it is most powerfully used to support formative feedback, especially where automatically generated by email. Students seem to really like having the chance to find out how they are doing, and attempt tests several times in an environment where no one else is watching how they do. Another benefit is that CAA systems allow you to monitor what is going on across a cohort, enabling you to concentrate your energies either on students who are repeatedly doing badly or those who are not engaging at all in the activity.
Slide 25 - Assessment, confidence and retention Crudely, student achievement is linked to students own beliefs about their abilities, whether these are fixed or malleable; Students who subscribe to an entity (fixed) theory of intelligence need ‘a diet of easy successes’ to confirm their ability and are fearful of learning goals as this involves an element of risk and personal failure. Assessment for these students is an all-encompassing activity that defines them as people. If they fail at the task, they are failures.
Slide 26 - Students who believe that intelligence is malleable may be more robust Students who believe that intelligence is incremental have little or no fear of failure. A typical response from such a student is ‘The harder it gets, the harder I need to try’. These students do not see failure as an indictment of themselves and [can] separate their self-image from their academic achievement. When faced with a challenge, these students are more likely to continue in the face of adversity because they have nothing to prove.
Slide 27 - Helping students understand the rules of the game The hardship was not understanding. When they give you an assignment and say it was on this hand-out. But my difficulty is not understanding what to do at first… I think that there’s a lack of my reading ability, which I can’t blame anyone for. I can only blame myself because I don’t like reading. And if you don’t read, you’re not going to learn certain things. So I suppose that’s to do with me…..it’s reading as well as putting what you read into your essay. You can read it and understand it. I can read and understand it, but then you have to incorporate it into your own words. But in the words they want you to say it in, not just: She said this, and this is the way it should be. The words, the proper language.
Slide 28 - Problems associated with reading “If 25% of your marks is from reading, you’ve got to try and show that, even if you haven’t read. I’m not going to sit there and read a chapter, and I’m certainly not going to read a book. But I’ll read little paragraphs that I think are relevant to what I’m writing, and it’s got me through, and my marks have been fine. But I can’t read. If I read too much, it goes over my head. If I’m writing something, I know what I want to say and I need something to back me up… then I will find something in a book that goes with that. I’m not going to try to take in the whole book just for one little bit. I have my book next to me and then I can pick out the bits.” Non-traditional entrants to Higher Education 2003
Slide 29 - Help students understand what is required with reading Help them also to understand that there are different kinds of approaches needed for reading depending on whether they are reading for pleasure, for information, for understanding or reading around a topic; Help them to become active readers with a pen and Post-its in hand, rather than passive readers, fitting the task in alongside television and other noisy distractions; Give them clear guidance in the early stages about how much they need to read and what kinds of materials they need to focus on.
Slide 30 - Use formative assessment to help students with writing Devote energy to helping students understand what is required of them in terms of writing; Work with them to understand the various academic discourses that are employed within the subject/institution; Help them to understand when writing needs to be personal and based on individual experience, such as in a reflective log, and when it needs to be formal and using academic conventions like passive voice and third person, as in written reports and essays.
Slide 31 - Making the most of feedback Plan to maximise the impact of formative feedback. Make extra time helping students to understand the importance of feedback and the value of spending some of their time after receiving work back to learn from the experience. Provide opportunities for students to respond to our feedback, for example, by giving students follow-up task or give them ‘feed-forward’ comments to improve their next piece of work. Think about the means by which we deliver feedback, since this can be vital in determining how much notice students take of what you say.
Slide 32 - The relationship between part-time work and student success Considerable research suggests that students who work PART TIME, to generate income, more than about 12 hours per week are likely to be academically disadvantaged; Students from disadvantaged groups are more likely to need to work part-time and are less able to stop working at peak times of study; Disadvantaged students may well be less well placed to find and keep part-time work, with inevitable financial repercussions.
Slide 33 - What can we do as individuals? Set small early assessed tasks (formative) and turn them round fast in the crucial first semester; Monitor student attendance/ engagement and take action when students disappear and particularly when work is not handed in; Make time available for student support, but know when to refer matters on when the problems are beyond our capabilities; Refer “at risk” students for professional support. Do what we can to personalise the learning experience.
Slide 34 - Diamond nine interventions Monitor attendance Use student liaison officers Use monitored weekly CAA tests Have a personal tutor schedule of meetings Use regular texts to individuals Encourage interaction on discussion board Track and monitor course work progress Have a prioritised list of students ‘at risk’ Use 2nd/3rd year students as mentors/buddies
Slide 35 - Risk analysis: factors impacting on drop out: likelihood x impact Within our control Clear/poor channels of communication Policy on access/ approachability Peer behaviour Inclusivity strategies - tutorials Availability of study skills/ information literacy Beyond our control Bereavement – refer to psychologist Family crisis – refer to psychologist Illness – refer to Institutional Health Clinic Relationship break up – refer to Psychologist Financial problems – Send to Student Aid Office Accommodation issues – Check with SRC/ House Wardens Homesickness- Send to Psychologist