Understanding the Completion Patterns of Equity Students in Regional Universities
Regional universities play an important role in widening access to, and increasing participation in, higher education, and subsequently contributing to the development of dynamic local communities. The success of students who study at regional universities is critical to building regional capacity and a significant social justice issue. It is a research priority in 2016 for the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.
Looking to provide actionable guidance by way of administrative, teaching, and support policy and practice, a research team led by Professor Karen Nelson with University of the Sunshine Coast colleague Ms Kerry Martin, Federation University Australia’s Professor Marcia Devlin, and Dr Daniel Edwards and Dr Julie McMillan from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), have been funded by the NCSEHE to examine the completion patterns of equity students in regional universities.
In a 2015 study, also funded by the NCSEHE, Dr Edwards and Dr McMillan examined the graduate outcomes for groups of students currently under-represented in Australian higher education, one such group being students attending regional universities.
“This new study builds on the research conducted by our ACER colleagues, which used detailed administrative data to track students from commencement to completion,” Professor Nelson said.
Personal characteristics, such as coming from a low socio-economic status background, being from a regional background, or studying online, all have the potential to diminish the likelihood of a student completing their degree. When these characteristics are combined – for instance, a regional student from a low socio-economic status (SES) background who has chosen to study externally – the likelihood increases that a student will be unable to complete their degree.
“Dr Edwards and Dr McMillan’s work used the Australian Government Department of Education and Training’s Higher Education Student Collection data and covered a period of nine years, up to 2013. This new project will include 2014 data, extending the currency of the research, and will be supplemented with insights gleaned from the Student Experience Survey, providing additional context to our findings.”
Focused on student cohorts from Regional Universities Network (RUN) member institutions, the team will compare patterns of completion within RUN universities against similar cohorts attending universities based in capital cities. The research aims to equip regional universities to enhance the completion rates of their students, and complements other studies funded by the Office for Learning & Teaching and National Priorities Projects led by Professors Nelson and Devlin which are investigating the experiences and success of regional students and the practices implemented by universities to positively shape their learning experience.
“A meeting with staff from the Department of Education and Training in May 2016 confirmed that what we are trying to achieve with this analysis is possible,” Professor Nelson said.
“The team and I will continue to work with the Department and RUN Vice-Chancellors to address our various research questions and compile our report, which we look forward to sharing via the NCSEHE toward the end of the year.”
Professor Nelson’s project is one of ten funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education via the Centre’s 2016 Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Program.