t m en e ag g en ! nd re tention a he n re tiou ca ed r e igH H Higher Education Retention and Engagement Project What works? Student retention and success programme Interim findings September 2009
m tea ct je Ed Fostero Nottingham Trent University •••• firstname.lastname@example.orgPr Sarah Lawther Nottingham Trent University ••••••• email@example.com Christine Keenan Bournemouth University ••••••••••• firstname.lastname@example.org Natalie Bates Bournemouth University ••••••••••• email@example.com Becka Currant University of Bradford •••••••••••• firstname.lastname@example.org Ruth Lefever University of Bradford ••••••••••email@example.com em er ge n t th em • Friendships, long term goals and personal motivation are key factors that help student doubters es stay at university • Early implications of the research suggest that prior information about the course and information about support available (academic, pastoral and financial) are important for retaining first year students • Opportunities for early friendship making within the curriculum (such as ice breakers) and external to the curriculum (such as student union activities) are essential for supporting students during transition • The role of the personal tutor is important in facilitating both academic and pastoral support for students, in particular helping students to understand expectations of independent study in HE
e a r ch ? e r es th is t ha the ProBlemW The Here! project revolves around the twin cores of why some first year students have doubts, but stay, and why some first year programmes perform better than their peers. The project is important because it concentrates on retention rather than withdrawal, wellness rather than illness. We aim to develop a retention audit tool by modelling those programmes most successful at retaining students within the partner institutions. The project is funded jointly by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Paul Hamlyn Trust. We have identified two strands of the student learning experience to evaluate and plan to analyse what makes students stay rather than what makes them leave.strand a: first year students Who have consideredWithdraWing But suBsequently remainedAll students over the course of their studies will face disappointments and challenges. In some students, this leadsto early withdrawal, in most it does not. Different studies have shown that between 21% (Rickinson and Rutherford,1995) and 46% (Ozga and Sukhnandan, 1998) of students have considered leaving their programme. In 2004-05,8.4% of UK students did not progress into the second year (NAO, 2007). Given that so many more students actuallyhave doubts than actually leave their programmes, what can we learn from doubters about the way they adapt tothe pressures of higher education? In this project we will explore the following:• Why do some students have doubts about their programme?• What keeps doubters on their course, why don’t all doubters leave?• Are doubters actually any more likely to subsequently leave?• Can we learn anything from how doubters have coped with university that can prevent other students from leaving early?We aim to better understand why doubters stay, learn lessons that can be transferred to help prevent more studentsleave and make recommendations for institutions to embed into first year working practices.strand B: different rates of retention BetWeenindividual first year ProgrammesSome subject areas have lower rates of retention than others, for example STEM subjects, business studies andmodern languages have all been cited as having greater problems with retaining students (NAO, 2002, 2007). Butthere is still variation amongst the actual rates of withdrawal across broadly similar programmes. As part of theHERE! project we intend to analyse those programmes that are performing excellently at retaining students acrossthe three institutions. Programme teams and students will then be audited to identify practices, relationships andprocesses that appear to be making a difference to retention.
m trent unive g ha rs it y in tt o n at ss strand ark in Progre Preliminary study In October 2008, all first year students at NTU were invited to respond to a survey immediately Wo after starting at the University. Questions were embedded asking whether they had considered withdrawing (or actually withdrawn) from their previous studies and what factors had been involved in leaving or staying. 27% of respondents had considered withdrawing (4% actually left). The reasons for wanting to leave or stay were analysed. Preliminary study findings The most common theme mentioned by students that helped to keep students on their course was ‘other people’ (including staff, tutors, friends, fellow students and family). The second and third most common reasons given for staying were wanting to come to university and career/ long term goals. student transition survey Between March and May 2009, online surveys were disseminated amongst first year students at all three institutions. Almost 900 responses were gathered in total. In the survey, students were asked to identify a range of issues including: • What they’d felt about the experience of university so far • Whether or not they’d considered leaving university • If they had considered leaving university (and decided to stay) what has helped them to decide to stay • If they had considered leaving university (and were undecided about staying or had decided to leave), what it was that made them consider leaving • How satisfied they were with a range of university experiences/services Further statistical analysis of the survey data is to be carried out. We plan to look at: • Whether students who have considered leaving university (‘doubters’) do withdraw (become ‘leavers’). • Whether there are common themes among doubters who stay and doubters who leave. Can we build a profile of these types from this data? Do these profiles differ among different student groups such as mature students, international students?
student transition survey continued 656 (9%) students responded to the survey. Of these students, 37% had considered leaving during their time at university so far. Of these 37%, 28% of students had decided to stay, 1% had decided to leave and 8% were still unsure about whether to stay or leave university. What helped students to stay at NTU? • Friendships and belonging • Long term goals • Own motivation and personality factors • Adapting to course and university We presented students with a number of positive statements about their learning and teaching experiences so far and asked them to rate them on a scale of 1-5, where 1 = “strongly disagree” and 5 = “strongly agree”. This was to find out in more detail about their course because it had been such a strong factor in students decision to leave FE in our preliminary research. We found that overall, doubters were less likely to agree or strongly agree to any of the statements indicating that they had a lower level overall of satisfaction with their experience of learning and teaching than non-doubters. The most difference between levels of satisfaction between these two groups was in the rating of the statement ‘I feel confident that I can cope with my studies’: 39% of doubters reported that they were confident that they can cope with their studies compared to 78% of non-doubters. In addition, we asked students what grade they were aiming for when they graduate. We found that the lower the final degree classification that the students were aiming for, the more likely the students were to have had doubts about their course (for example, 100% of students aiming for a final degree classification of 40-49% had doubts compared to only 35% aiming for a first). We currently do not know how many of the students who completed our survey will progress into the second year. This data will not be available until later on this year. The themes found in this survey therefore tell us about why students have had doubts, and why they have chosen to stay (or leave) but not whether these students will eventually become persisters (or leavers). We hope to track this data during the duration of the project. To support findings from the Student Transition Survey at NTU, four focus groups were run this year – one control group of non-doubters and three groups of doubters (STEM, mature and a more general group of doubters).strand B Programme audit Researchers at NTU have been developing a question set for use with programme teams to test possible hypotheses about factors that make a difference regarding retention. Programmes within one academic school have been analysed to find exemplars of good retention. In the school in question, first year programmes are often taught in a common first year, which raises interesting questions and some problems about how to analyse the retention rates between programmes.
uth univer mo sit ne y ur Bo at s strand a esrk in Progr Preliminary study In January 2009, BU conducted a study in collaboration with members of the Student Union investigating the perceived benefits of students engaging in the leadership and volunteering activities offered by the union in terms of self efficacy, and friendship development. An online survey was distributed to students who had left BU within their first year of study (academic year 08/09) to find out whether involvement in student union Wo extra curricular activities could have helped them overcome their doubts and remain at university. Preliminary study findings • There is not always one individual reason that a student withdraws from university • For the majority of students in the study, friendships and the process of meeting new people did not have an impact on their decision to withdraw from university – most found it easy to make friends • Students were not all aware of Student’s Union activities such as the SUBU Leadership Programme and SUBU Speed Meet but would have liked to have joined in if they’d have known about them It was the main reason I stayed at uni. I had actually considered leaving before I did it – it • In recent years, students have gave me a great way to make new friends and do found SU activities motivating for their personal development and an something other than my coursework that was opportunity to make new friends worthwhile (student quote on previous SUBU activities) student transition survey A survey was distributed to first year students at BU between March and May 2009 to explore the views of doubters and non-doubters’ experiences of their first year at university. There were 89 responses to the Bournemouth Survey. The data is currently being analysed and key findings to date are listed below: • Of the 89 students who completed the survey, 46% have considered leaving university so far in their first year • Of these 46%, 38% of students have decided to stay at BU and 8% were still unsure whether to stay or leave
student transition survey continuedWhat helped students to stay at BU?• Ambition to achieve future goals – determination and perseverance• Friends (both at home and at university)• Receiving help and support from the university and lecturers• Being enrolled on an interesting course• Family• Having a well structured workload• Getting good grades for assignments completed so far• Personal tutorialsOverall, non-doubters appear to have had more positive course experiences so far than doubters, e.g. havingconfidence to cope with coursework and knowing where to go for help. Doubters, however, experienced marginallymore support from family and fellow students than the non-doubters. Non-doubters felt it was more importantthat lecturers are accessible and enthusiastic, and that the course is well organised. Doubters, in contrast, placedhigher importance on receiving useful feedback about their work and liking where they live. We will follow up thefindings with a selection of student interviews and obtain progression data on the respondents to track who enterstheir second year of study in 2009/10.strand B Programme audit A study looking at the transition and induction of students into nursing courses at Bournemouth University and University College Yeovil was carried out between August 2008 and July 2009. The study was designed to identify factors which appear to be enhancing the first year experience and retention rates, and those areas which needed to be improved. 150 nursing students at Yeovil and Bournemouth completed a questionnaire on their expectations and experiences of HE, and 9 staff were interviewed who taught on the nursing programmes.Programme audit findings• The role of the personal tutor was key to supporting students during transition• Freshers week was considered overwhelming for students – it was suggested that information could be broken down into more manageable ‘chunks’• Many students had difficulty adjusting to expectations of independent study• Small group size at Yeovil had a positive impact on relationships within the group and peer support• Contextualising academic information in relation to practice was successful for motivating first years – students could see purpose if it related to their future careerOf the 150 nursing students who completed the survey, 21% had considered leaving university during the first fewweeks of their programme. As with the Student Transition Survey, we intend to identify how many of the 150 nursingstudents progress into their second year of study in 2009/10.
ty of Bradfor e rs i d iv n u at s esrk in Progr strand a student Wo transition survey 128 first year students completed the Student Transition Survey at Bradford during March and May 2009. Initial findings suggest broadly similar patterns to Bournemouth and NTU. More detailed analysis will take place this year. strand B Programme audit The University of Bradford are currently in the process of selecting 7 programmes to audit next year. Each institution will conduct 7 in-depth audits of individual programmes, including staff and student interviews and analysis of programme documents e.g. programme handbooks. The programme audit tool (developed as a result of feedback from the Student Transition Survey findings and research into retention) will be used to guide the programme audits. The programme audit tool will subsequently be refined and developed during the process. Project Progress In addition to working on Strands A and B of the project, the University of Bradford have also: • Appointed a Research Associate to work on the project • Hosted HERE! project team meetings • Presented details of the project at several conferences in the UK and internationally, including the AimHigher Retention Symposium in West Yorkshire and the International First Year Experience Conference on Montreal, Canada.
ts n Poin io ss u sc dikey As a result of the project’s emergent themes to date, we have developed some areas for discussion. The following discussion points are directed towards university staff to explore ways of enhancing the first year experience for students at university and improving retention. What is the role of friendship during the transition and induction phase? How can universities successfully support effective social and academic integration in the first year of the student journey? What is the best way to introduce students to independent learning and the use of personal study time? Could transition support be improved by creating closer links with sixth forms and FE colleges? What opportunities are there to identify students who may be potentially at risk of early withdrawal? What role could year 2 or year 3 students have in supporting the transition of students? What are the best ways of avoiding the information overload effect during transition and induction?
future Pla n s2009/2010 2010/2011Identify if any students who completed the Conduct the Student Transition Survey with aStudent Transition Survey at each institution have new cohort of first year students enrolled onsubsequently withdrawn undergraduate programmes for 2010/11 at each institutionBegin to track the progression of doubters andnon-doubters who completed the Student Transition Survey original participants from the 2009 StudentSurvey at each institution Transition Survey to review their experiencesInterview a selection of students who completed Track the academic performance of students whothe Student Transition Surveys to gain a more in- completed the 2009 Student Transition Surveydepth perspective (doubters who have stayed andstudents who have withdrawn, if any) Continue programme audit at each institution and review the programme audit tool against theSelect programmes at each institute to audit. research findingsConduct interviews with students and staff involvedin the programmes and analyse secondary data e.g. Produce end of project reportprogramme handbooksdisseminationThe project will be a key theme at the ‘Students’ Writing in Transition’ symposium on 15th September 2009 atNottingham Trent University.Details of the HERE! project and emerging findings to be presented at the HSC Retention summit at BournemouthUniversity on 23rd September 2009.Bradford University will host a HE Academy Research Seminar Series, ‘Access and Success for All’, workshop on15th October 2009 to explore some of the project findings and develop the programme audit tool.The project interim findings will be presented at the ALDinHE Conference in March 2010.referencesNAO (National Audit Office) (2002) Improving Student Achievement in English Higher Education London: TheStationery OfficeNAO (National Audit Office) (2007) Staying the course: the retention of students in higher education. Report by theComptroller and Auditor General. London: The Stationery Office.Ozga, J. and Sukhnandan, L. (1998) ‘Undergraduate non-completion: developing an explanatory model’, HigherEducation Quarterly, 52(3): 316-333.Rickinson, B. and Rutherford, D. (1995) ‘Increasing undergraduate student retention rates’, British Journal ofGuidance and Counselling, 23(2): 161-172.
it tool ud ea m m a grPr o The purpose of the audit tool is to develop meaningful questions that can ultimately be used as a self audit tool for programme teams to reflect upon their own working practices compared against those of programmes with good rates of retention and to consider processes that may help improve retention and engagement. The programme audit tool is based on the following question areas: 1. How can institutions and partnerships ensure that students are sufficiently prepared to make the transition into higher education? 2. How can the student learning experience be managed and co-ordinated to promote student success? 3. How can formal and informal extra-curricular activities support students and promote their engagement within HE? 4. How can the curriculum be designed and delivered to promote the success of all students? The full set of questions used in the programme audit tool have been based upon research into student retention and initial student feedback from the Student Transition Survey. It will primarily be used as a guide for structured interviews with programme staff and developed to improve clarity and relevance.