When students leave before completing first year, it comes at a cost to the individual, and more broadly to the institutions, government and society. The reasons why students withdraw, particularly from studies during their first year are complex. However, retention research in the field of Higher Education points to enrolment in an unsuitable program of study, study that is not relevant to career goals, and a change of direction, as common reasons for withdrawing from university (James, Krause & Jennings, 2010; Long, Ferrier, & Heagney, 2006; Simpson, 2004). A recent Australian study found that upon leaving secondary school at least one quarter of first-year university students do not feel prepared to decide what to study at university (James et al., 2010, p. 30). Students who have not made informed choices about what they want to study are more likely to enrol in a program that is not meaningful to them and thus end up withdrawing – or they may not enrol at all.
The goal of the project is thus to enhance support for prospective students so that they make more informed choices about what to study at university, with the ultimate goal of improving student satisfaction and retention. The literature suggests that there is limited knowledge to date about how prospective students in Australia determine what to study. What is clear is that prospective students would benefit from more personal support, advice and guidance throughout this process (Diamond, Vorley, Roberts & Jones, 2012; James, Baldwin & McInnes, 1999; James et al., 2010; Leach & Zepke, 2005).
Diamond, A., Vorley, T., Roberts, J., & Jones, S. (2012). Behavioural Approaches to Understanding Student Choice. UK: Higher Education Academy.
James, R., Baldwin, G., & McInnes, C (1999). Which university? The factors influencing choices of prospective undergraduates. Canberra: DETYA Higher Education Division.
James, R., Krause, K., & Jennings, C. (2010). The first year experience in Australian universities: Findings from 1994 to 2009. Melbourne: University of Melbourne, Centre for the Study of Higher Education.
Leach, L. & Zepke, N. (2005). Student Decision-making by Prospective Tertiary Students, a review of existing New Zealand and overseas literature. Massey University. Report for the Ministry of Education. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
Long, M., Ferrier, F., & Heagney, M. (2006). Stay, play or give it away? Students continuing, changing or leaving university study in first year. Monash University.
Simpson, O. (2004). Student Retention and the course choice process – the UK Open University experience. Journal of Access Policy and Practice 2(1), 44-58.
 ‘Program’ refers to a suite of units of study (also called courses or subjects) that lead to a degree or credential, such as a Bachelor of Arts degree. Although the term ’course’ can also describe the same level of university study, it can also refer to a unit of study, therefore the term ‘program’ will be used throughout.
Secondary Schools – The project will generate improved understandings of the prospective student experience that will be helpful for secondary school counsellors and teachers involved with students and families as they make decisions about higher education
Project deliverables will be designed to enrich existing support structures and outcomes will contribute to SACE improvement by providing evidence-based strategies for supporting student development in the transition from secondary to tertiary studies. The project findings will invite new opportunities for building professional capacity that supports career development learning/student development across a range of secondary school contexts.
Universities – The project findings will inform tertiary institution and government policy, and augment the body of knowledge on prospective students referred to by the tertiary sector. The findings will be relevant for outreach, recruitment/marketing, and admission practitioners, learning and teaching advocates, and administrators in higher education.
The project will contribute positively and tangibly to student attainment and has the potential to influence widening participation priorities and goals that have been set nationally. It will address issues of retention and success that concern all Australian universities by offering evidence for enhancing established recruitment strategies that support prospective students’ development.
Ultimately, a potential expansion of services provided to prospective students as a result of this project could encourage more people to apply to university and more to attain a credential.