Launch of Final Report

The Final Report of the project is now available. Entitled “Enabling retention: processes and strategies for improving student retention in university-based enabling programs. Final Report 2013”, it was launched on 28 November 2013 at the inaugural conference of the National Association of Enabling Educators of Australia (NAEEA) at the Australian Catholic University’s Melbourne campus.

The Report is available from the Resource Library of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching website (www.olt.gov.au).

The full Report covers the background to the project, the results of the study into the nature of student attrition in enabling programs – which turns out to be substantially different to that in undergraduate degree programs – and a discussion of what this means for strategies to enhance student retention including some specific suggestions for action.

Renovation of website

This website is in the process of being updated. Substantial content will be added over the next few months, including a listing of all Australian university-based enabling programs, the questionnaires used in the surveys and a collection of suggestions for enhancing student retention.

We hope also to post a template to allow for submission of other ideas for enhancing retention and to invite our colleagues in enabling education to add to the collection. It is hoped that the website will be able to serve as a focal point for sharing and discussion around these issues.

Regional Workshops Update

As part of a combined process of consultation and dissemination, workshops presenting findings to that date of the study and allowing the opportunity for discussion of issues around student retention were held between November 2012 and June 2013. Workshops were held in Tasmania, NSW, Queensland and Western Australia. The project team is very grateful for the opportunity to present our findings and share in the experience of workshop participants. Discussion was always lively and the process was very helpful in forming the final project Report.

Workshops were held at the University of Tasmania (Hobart, Launceston), University of NSW (Sydney), University of Newcastle (Newcastle), Edith Cowan University (Perth), Griffith University (Brisbane), University of the Sunshine Coast (Sippy Downs), University of Central Queensland (Bundaberg) and University of Southern Queensland (Toowoomba). Over 100 academics, teachers, support people and program leaders from over 30 Australian institutions involved in enabling education attended, including universities, TAFE colleges and government departments. Without exception, interest was high and the discussion was animated. Our thanks to our colleagues at those institutions who organised the workshops and to all who attended.

The process of presenting findings and sharing experiences with colleagues in the field was extremely valuable for the development of the project and began a process of collaboration which we hope will continue into the future. The project team thanks all those who took part and shared their extensive experience on student retention and attrition with us.

There is still the opportunity for further workshops to be run where there is interest in using the project findings to focus discussion of student retention with your colleagues. If you would like to discuss the possibility of hosting a workshop on student retention and attrition with a member of the project team, please contact Barry Hodges (Barry.Hodges@Newcastle.edu.au) or your regional team members [link as in current].  If you would be interested in participating in such a workshop but are not in a position to offer to host it, contact us as well and we will keep you in touch with any workshops in your area.

Mailing List

A mailing list has been compiled of workshop attendees and other interested colleagues. If you would like to be notified of updates to the website or other events of interest, just send the request to Barry Hodges (Barry.Hodges@Newcastle.edu.au). At the moment it is not an automated list but it is hoped to set up a list server later this year.

Regional Workshops

Results and the developing intervention strategies will be shared with other enabling educators in a series of workshops in different parts of Australia in the latter part of Semester 2, 2012.

These workshops will cover:

  • Major findings of the project;
  • Issues of attrition in enabling programs;
  • Strategies to improve student retention.

The workshops will be a collaborative process where we will share our findings with participants, followed by discussion in the context of participants’ experiences of student retention. Those attending will take away both a deepened understanding of the wider processes underlying student retention and attrition in enabling programs and some specific ideas for things they can do to improve retention in their own context. The workshops aim to be part of  a process of collaborative development of best practice in student retention and we hope that you will share your ideas with us for passing on to others.

The exact timing of the Workshop in each regional centre is flexible. We will be consulting with all those expressing interest in attending in each region to find the most convenient time for everyone. It is anticipated that most of the workshops would be held between mid-October and mid-December 2012, but this can be varied to some extent.

Workshops are already confirmed in Sydney, Newcastle and Tasmania (dates and further details to follow) and workshops in Adelaide and Perth are in planning. (A report on the progress of the project was presented to the Queensland Enabling Education Symposium in June 2012 and the Queensland workshop will be run in conjunction with the next Symposium in Toowoomba in 2013.

If you are interested in attending a workshop in your region, please contact us for details and to have a say in just when the workshop will be held. (We are also looking for someone to host a workshop in some areas; if you might be able to help please get in touch with us.)

For general enquiries, contact Barry Hodges - Barry.Hodges@newcastle.edu.au or your regional team members.

Data analysis underway

Good news.  The study has generated a wealth of data about our students and their experience of our programs. The data is currently being analysed to discover as much as possible about the processes of student attrition in enabling programs and, in particular, to attempt to identify similarities and differences to the corresponding processes in undergraduate programs. This will allow us to use some of the existing intervention strategies which have been deployed in undergraduate programs and widely reported on in the literature and to adapt others. Stay tuned…

Data collection nearing completion

The data collection process was based on a series of questionnaires which began in Week 2 -Semester 1, 2011 and is complete at the University of Newcastle, the University of Southern Queensland, and the University of New England. Due to substantial changes in the structure of the program at the University of South Australia, and to personnel at Edith Cowan University, data collection was deferred until 2012 at those institutions. The process is now underway with completion expected by the end of 2012.

Each student was asked to complete two questionnaires: an Initial Questionnaire in Week 2 of the first semester of their program and either an Exit Survey (students leaving the program without completion) or a Concluding Questionnaire in the last week of their program.

Students in enabling programs tend to be less experienced in the processes of formal education, and the return rate of questionnaires has varied substantially between institutions and programs. Where we were able to administer questionnaires in lectures and tutorials, the return rate has been very high, at times approaching 100% of the students present in class. However, where questionnaires have been emailed or posted to students the return rate has often been disappointing. This is especially true of the Exit Surveys sent to students formally withdrawing, or identified as having left the program without formally withdrawing.

Data analysis in progress

Analysis of the data is well underway, with some significant features of retention and attrition in enabling programs emerging. We are finding confirmation of the anecdotal evidence of significant numbers of students dropping out of their program before it begins, for example. Preliminary analysis is indicating that much of this is actually positive attrition with a number of respondents reporting gaining access to university before they begin their enabling program and others leaving to take up new employment. In general, it appears that much of the apparent high rate of attrition is actually due to students enrolling in the program but finding that their goals have been achieved or changed before the program begins.

Analysis of the emerging patterns of student attrition in enabling programs is suggesting a number of general principles underlying effective measures to improve student retention and these are being developed for discussion in forthcoming Regional Workshops [link: to page] as well as in later conference papers and publications. One significant area of development is in processes of identifying students who have enrolled but decided not to begin the enabling program: how can we offer support for their decision-making if they are not sure of what they want to do? If they have decided that it is not for them (at least not at this time) how can we best help them to make a positive exit from the program?