In 2008, the Bradley Review discovered we had a crisis in the form of poor participation rates of lower socio-economic status (SES) students in Australian Universities.
The government’s response was to set a goal of increasing the proportion of low SES students from 15 per cent to 20 per cent by 2020.
We have seen the start of this visibly after the caps on student numbers were removed. This has allowed Universities to provide extra capacity and it has allowed more students from lower socio-economic status (SES) households to gain entry to bachelor degrees.
Another part of the plan for equality is the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program. This started in 2010 and provided funding to Universities to invest in activities and strategies to encourage low SES students to enrol and graduate.
The good news is this fund has been doubled this year to a total of $177.6 million. This money will go towards funding partnerships with schools and vocational training facilities as well as financial incentives for enrolling and retaining low SES students.
Entering the University Community is the key to retention
According to Dr Mark Rubin, a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle, getting low SES students through to graduation is all about social integration.
Low SES students are more likely to feel isolated, leading them to miss out on the social benefits of being in University such as the close friendships, the social and sporting clubs.
There is a proven link between integration into the community and academic performance. I can definitely vouch for this, I found the more friends I had in a class, the more help I was able to access. Plus there was an extra incentive to get to class as we could all meet there (before hitting the pub).
University friends can remind you about assignments and give pointers on what to do. Often I found there was very little indication of what exactly the lecturer wanted in an assignment so getting access to past ones was a real eye opener.
In short, making lots of friends at University will improve your grades not just your weekends.
Welcoming disadvantaged students
Returning to Dr Rubin’s research, he has found that low SES students are the most likely to benefit from greater social integration. This is because they are the most marginalised group of students, leading to poor adacemic outcomes and high drop out rates. If University could be drawn deeper into the centre of these student’s lives, the research indicates that they will be more likely to graduate.
But how can we achieve this goal? Dr Rubin indicates that there is a significant lack of research on this matter. Much of his data was based on American studies and there is not enough research into methods to increase intergration. However he suggests potential solutions could be found by “increasing the availability and affordability of campus-based accommodation, childcare facilities and social activities, as well as subsidising travel to and from campuses.”
Keep your eyes out, as the funding for programs to increase retention has been literally doubled, you should see a clear change at University along the lines Dr Rubin suggested.
For links to Dr Mark Runib’s research and his personal profile, click here.