Improving tertiary pathways by improving support for prospective students

Literature Review

College Choice and Retention Research

Several decades of research in Higher Education (HE) has examined extensively how students make decisions about university enrolment and similarly, why students persist once enrolled. A robust body of literature in both fields – student enrolment choice and retention – offers intelligence from a range of disciplinary standpoints: sociological, economic and psychological perspectives, among others. While many of the theories and studies that serve to provide insight into student behaviour are in the US context, there is still great relevance and value in this knowledge base for consideration within the Australian tertiary setting. Student enrolment choice and retention share concepts and models, and “overlapping influences” (Stage & Hossler, 2000, p. 176) that affect both student enrolment and consequent persistence: student characteristics, background variables as well as cognitive and non-cognitive variables, and organisational variables. In spite of these seemingly obvious commonalities, the two areas of study tend to remain quite distinct from one another. Stage and Hossler, two prominent US researchers created a model in 1999 that reconciled the two concepts where “common constructs…are used to link the concepts into one causal process” (Stage & Hossler, 2000). But there has not been a significant amount of empirical research to follow up nor is an approach that bridges these two conceptual frameworks evident in the Australian literature.  However, the link between student choice and retention may be significant: post-enrolment strategies that promote retention have connections with prospective students at the pre-enrolment stage through these shared influences, as suggested by Stage and Hossler (2000). Perhaps the fundamental relationship between prospective students and universities can be best explained thus:  “retention begins with the recruitment of prospective graduates” (Tang, 1981).

  1. Stage, F. & Hossler, D. (2000). Where is the Student? Linking Student Behaviors, College Choice and College Persistence. In J. Braxton, (Ed.). Reworking the Student Departure Puzzle. USA: Vanderbilt University Press.
  2. Tang, E. (1981). Student Recruitment and Retention. [Abstract]. Paper presented to Pacific Region Seminar of the Association of Community College Trustees. Portland, Oregon, June 25-27, 1981.

For a more in-depth literature review, read our STARS 2015 Conference Paper:

What to study? Supporting prospective student enrolment choice

Career Decision-making and Study Choice Research

The process of making a study choice is one that that has traditionally been treated using career development theories and frameworks. This review will explore the application of established approaches in the fields of career exploration and career-decision-making to understanding the ways in which Year 12 students explore and make study choices about post-school and higher education pathways. Research that addresses Study Choice specifically will also be examined.


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