Swinburne University of Technology — Strategies for Success
The Strategies for Success (SFS) program at Swinburne University of Technology is a flagship activity in Swinburne’s overall orientation and transition strategy. The week-long program, held two weeks before the commencement of semester, aims to facilitate students’ academic transition to the university, as well as build important social connections among students.
The program is open to all new and current students, with targeted attendance by low socioeconomic status (SES) and ‘at risk’ students. Analysis of academic results at semester’s end suggests the program acts as a significant confidence booster for students, leading to demonstrably positive effects on academic performance, including for disadvantaged students.
The SFS program was developed in the context of growing diversification of student cohorts at Swinburne, along with concerns about rising rates of student attrition, especially among disadvantaged students.
Internal research showed that the chief factors contributing to attrition were students’ lack of familiarity with academic requirements at tertiary level, as well as a limited sense of belonging to the institution.
SFS was developed to address this situation, aiming to:
- facilitate students’ transition to university through a comprehensive understanding of the ‘student experience’, including an introduction to key academic skills relevant to study in their particular faculty
- introduce students to support services in the university
- develop strong social connections among students, along with their sense of belonging.
Activities and Progress
The program commenced in 2014 under the auspices of the University’s newly-formed Student Engagement unit. The program is open to all new students, with some targeting of disadvantaged student cohorts. Later-year students who fall into ‘at risk of failure’ categories are also strongly encouraged to attend. The program is held each semester, two weeks before the formal commencement of classes.
The topics covered in the program include: the transition to university; motivation; goal setting; time management and procrastination issues; the balance between study, paid work, family and leisure time; getting the most out of lectures and tutorials/labs/studios; planning and writing essays and reports; and preparing for class oral presentations and formal exams.
A key innovation in the development of the five-day program has been to shift from a generic program to a faculty-based one — students in each of Swinburne’s three faculties attend separate, parallel programs ensuring that content is targeted to the specific study requirements of the broad areas of study: STEM, business, or social and health sciences/design.
Along with helping develop key academic and transition skills, the program is designed to be the first point of contact for a suite of support services including: academic development consultation services; language and academic skills support; student mentor activities; and careers guidance.
Participation has progressively increased over the three years the program has run. In Semester 1 2016, 1,290 students attended, representing over 30 per cent of the undergraduate intake.
The University estimates 20 per cent of these participants fell into low or near-low SES categories. This represents more than 50 per cent uptake for newly-enrolled students in these lower categories. The main measure of program performance has been students’ subsequent academic performance.
In 2016, students who attended SFS achieved significantly higher marks at the end of Semester 1 than those who did not attend. In Semester 2, there was a smaller, but still significant difference between students who had attended the initial SFS and those who had not. This suggests that the program acts as a significant confidence booster for students, supporting adaptation to the demands and requirements of their study. Significantly, the analysis also found this overall positive effect for those students falling into low SES categories.
The SFS program has become a key and ongoing component of Swinburne’s transition strategies. Development and deployment of the program has been largely HEPPP funded over the last three years. This funding has enabled the program to grow significantly, including being able to offer targeted faculty-specific versions of the program.
One area for development is to maximise attendance of low SES and other disadvantaged students. Our evaluation processes have found that a factor preventing some students from participating has been work commitments, as the program is currently only provided on campus during the day, before semester commences. Continued funding will enable adaptation of the program for online delivery, thus ensuring expanded access to disadvantaged cohorts.
This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.