Equity groups and predictors of academic success in higher education
Research funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) at Curtin University has investigated equity groups and predictors of academic success in higher education, with particular focus on the influence of first in family (FiF) status, socio-economic and demographic contributors to the academic outcomes of students enrolled in a large regional Australian university.
The project, funded via the NCSEHE’s 2014 Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Program, and led by the University of Newcastle Australia’s Dr Jill Scevak, produced results in line with previous research from the United States on first-in-family – or first generation – university students.
“In the United States, being first in family to attend university can be strongly linked to social class and economic variables,” said Dr Jill Scevak, Senior Lecturer, School of Education at the University of Newcastle.
“FiF students tend to worry more about living and educational expenses than their non-FiF peers, and in our study, scored significantly lower than non-FiF students when it came to coping with academic workloads, their academic skills confidence, and likelihood of seeking help.”
“In addition, before enrolling in university studies, FiF students tended to know fewer university students than non-FiF students, despite not differing in their entry pathways to study.”
Working with University of Newcastle colleagues, Dr Erica Southgate, Dr Mark Rubin, Ms Suzanne Macqueen, Dr Heather Douglas and Mr Paul Williams, Dr Scevak’s study found no differences between FiF and non-FiF students when it came to the decision to study full time or part time.
“FiF and non-FiF students didn’t tend to differ when it came to study load. Similarly, there were no differences between FiF and non- FiF enrolment in degree type, year level of study or hours attended.”
Dr Scevak’s report recommends that further research is undertaken to explore the unique challenges that FiF students face and to identify the tailored support they need to help overcome the challenges they face.
Reviewing the report, NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad, emphasised the importance of higher education in addressing social inequality.
“In every industrialised country, higher education is the vehicle for social standing and occupational success.”
“FiF students encompass low SES, mature age, regional and remote, and Indigenous students. Appropriately tailored support for FiF students is essential so that these students may realise their potential.”
“I welcome this additional research on first in family students and look forward to discussion on the findings.”
Dr Scevak’s team also produced a guide for educators in higher education, aimed at helping university teaching staff improve academic outcomes for students with varying levels of ability.