Indicators of persistence and their influence on the first year experience of university students from low socio-economic backgrounds

Thesis written by Dr Ann Jardine

This study focuses on the first year experience of Australian university students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds. Firstly, it examines pre commencement expectations and post commencement experiences from the perspective of six indicators of persistence identified from the literature. It then explores considerations of university drop-out and transfer from the same perspective.

The conceptual framework of the study is informed by two key sources. Firstly, it draws on the student persistence literature. Secondly, it is underpinned by Bourdieu’s field theory of capital, habitus and field. These sources provided the basis for the development of six indicators of persistence which were designed to identify differences due to SES. The individual, social capital and external indicators are influenced by the individual habitus of the student. On the other hand, the academic, social and institutional indicators are shaped by the institutional habitus of the university.

The findings indicate that in many cases students enter university with unrealistic and unmet expectations. However the emergent patterns appear complex. The discord between expectations and experiences is greatest with the three indicators of persistence that are influenced by the institutional habitus. However, significant differences between low SES students and their peers are more likely to occur across the indicators influenced by individual habitus. The findings lend support to the concept of habitus and support the assumption that students from low SES backgrounds enter with less capital.

Results indicate that the processes involved in considering dropping out differ from those related to decisions to transfer to another university. While SES plays no role in drop-out considerations, it does play a role in students’ transfer plans. However, findings reveal that students from low SES backgrounds are less likely to consider dropping out than their peers. The processes involving transfer appear more complex for all students, regardless of SES. The key processes in drop-out considerations involved the individual, academic and institutional indicators of persistence. The major contributing influence relates to aspects of the academic environment. Individual, academic, external and social indicators of persistence all played a significant role in students’ transfer considerations.

Several implications for national and institutional policy and practice emerge from the study. The implications at a national level focus on university application processes, measure of SES and monitoring of retention across the sector. Institutional implications relate to student retention strategies, their focus and the scope and timing of such strategies.

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Dr Ann Jardine was recently awarded a PhD from the University of Melbourne and has presented her research findings at seminars and conferences in both Australia and the UK. She has applied her research on education and disadvantage to a range of educational contexts, as an educator and manager in primary, secondary, and adult education institutions. Ann is currently the Director of the Student Equity and Disabilities Unit and of the ASPIRE program at the University of New South Wales. She is dedicated to working to address social inequities and educational disadvantage.

Posted 27 September 2013 By ncsehe