Improving tertiary pathways by improving support for prospective students


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[1] 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 was 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.

[1] ‘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.

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