Do individual background characteristics influence tertiary completion rates?

Written by Patrick Lim, National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER)

With a push to increase university undergraduate enrolments, there is the subsequent issue of whether an increase in the enrolment of students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds translates to university completion. This report investigates the issues of university (bachelor degree) completion, and in particular, whether the completion rates of low SES individuals are different from those of high SES individuals. That is, if more people from low SES backgrounds are attending university, are they also completing degrees? And are they completing them at the same rate as their higher SES counterparts?

The key focus of this study was to determine whether there were differences in university completion rates according to socio-economic background.

The study used the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) in conjunction with random effects models to analyse the impact of SES on university completion. The use of LSAY facilitated the application of an individual measure of SES, thus enabling characteristics of the individual to be used, along with a range of background characteristics.

In terms of university completion, the analysis found that the impact of schools is not insubstantial, with schools accounting for around 30% of the variation in university completion. The results showed that school sector continues to influence course completion, with significant differences observed for low SES students. Low SES students attending government schools had lower completion rates than high students attending Catholic and independent schools. Low SES students attending Catholic and independent schools still have lower university completion than their high SES counterparts, but the effect is much less important. Thus, attending a Catholic or independent school cushions the impact that being low SES has on course completion.

Students with an Asian language background were shown to have the highest chance of completing university.

Regionality is directly related to non-completion, with those from regional areas having the lowest probabilities of completion.

The continued push to increase participation in higher education for students from low socio-economic backgrounds should continue; however, low SES students also need to have access to the required support to ensure that their completion rates continue to match their high SES counterparts. This report shows that low SES students from regional areas, who attended government schools and who are female, may need further support to ensure they complete at the same rate as their high SES peers.

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Lim, P. (2015). Do individual background characteristics influence tertiary completion rates? A 2014 Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Project. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Perth: Curtin University.

Posted 14 September 2015 By ncsehe