Targeted Strategy Recommended for Regional Student Engagement
Widening participation programs are demonstrably effective in stimulating university applications, but a sustained commitment is critical in maintaining consistent, long-term engagement, particularly in regional and remote schools.
A review of a large-scale collaborative initiative in Queensland, led by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), recommends a tailored strategy to meet the higher costs of outreach programs in hard-to-reach areas, where students often see the decision to undertake tertiary study as a significant risk.
Outcomes data and previous insights from the Queensland Consortium initiative were built upon to explore the impact of widening participation activities in low socioeconomic status (SES) schools across the state, Lead Researcher Nadine Zacharias said.
“Initiatives were most effective where they were fully implemented and sustained at the school level. These outcomes were generally achieved in metropolitan areas and some provincial cities,” Dr Zacharias said.
The research indicated that the development of a national regional and remote widening participation strategy would provide a highly effective policy opportunity to create and sustain high engagement with schools in in regional and remote areas, Project Manager Geoffrey Mitchell explained.
“This national education strategy, coupled with targeted funding mechanisms, would ensure regional and remote students have the opportunity to participate in scaffolded tertiary awareness and preparation activities that are early, ongoing and experiential, and would deliver better educational outcomes for people from regional and remote areas,” Mr Mitchell said.
NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad emphasised the relevance of this important research in the context of a wider challenge to engage regional and remote students in higher education.
“The financial and emotional costs associated with having to relocate to study makes the decision to attend university a high-stakes one for many regional and remote students,” Professor Trinidad said.
“Targeted supports may reduce the risks for students moving to a city to access higher education, while innovative distance and blended models of delivery are critical in the provision of higher education for those who choose not to do so.”
Associate Professor Maria Raciti spoke to students who had participated in school-based widening participation activities and gone on to enrol at university.
“Qualitative analysis of interviews and focus groups identified key contributors to the disparity between urban and regional outcomes. These included: campus proximity; availability of role models and reliable information; and development of resilience,” Associate Professor Raciti said.
Mr Paul Koshy, who led the quantitative data analysis component of the project, said the work also pointed to the need for more systematic tracking of university engagement with schools and students at a national level.
“This is necessary to ensure that low SES students, irrespective of location, are receiving the level of engagement needed to impact on tertiary participation,” Mr Koshy said.
Widening regional and remote participation: Interrogating the impact of outreach programs across Queensland is available here.
Nina-Marie Thomas, NCSEHE Media and Communications Officer
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