The whole of university experience: retention, attrition, learning and personal support interventions during undergraduate business studies

Willcoxson, Lesley and Manning, Mark and Wynder, Monte and Hibbins, Ray and Joy, Sally and Thomas, Jan and Leask, Betty and Girardi, Antonia and Sidoryn, Tristana and Cotter, Julie and Kavanagh, Marie and Troedson, David and Lynch, Bernadette (2011) The whole of university experience: retention, attrition, learning and personal support interventions during undergraduate business studies. Project Report. Australian Learning and Teaching Council , Sydney, Australia. [Report]

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The Whole of University Experience (WoUE) project examined factors underpinning attrition in the first, second and third year of a business degree at six Australian universities – Griffith University, Monash University, Murdoch University, University of South Australia, University of Southern Queensland, and University of the Sunshine Coast. A questionnaire completed in 2008, 2009, and 2010 by a total of 7,486 students enabled gathering of data relating to demographics; students’ experience of university; their use and perceptions of the usefulness of student support interventions; open-ended comments about the best and worst aspects of the university experience; and aspects in need of improvement. In each year a small number of students were also interviewed for the purpose of fleshing out the survey data and exploring the interactions between various factors associated with attrition.
Overall, the data strongly indicates that factors related to attrition are generally university-specific and reflect both student characteristics and their responses to the specific institutional culture and environment. The only attrition triggers which span most universities and most years of study are ‘lack of a clear reason for being at university’ and ‘the feeling of having insufficient ability to succeed at university’.
Correlation analysis relating 70 statements probing students’ experience of university to the strength of their intention to leave before completing a degree revealed notable differentiation in attrition triggers on the basis of year of study. Follow-up analysis in one university indicated further differentiation in the triggers for attrition, semester by semester. It seems that many different factors underpin attrition decisions in any one institution and for any one individual, for whom attrition appears to be the result of the aggregation of diverse factors generally followed by ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’.
When responses are grouped by demographic variables some difference in the factors associated with domestic and international student attrition is apparent, but no difference in the factors associated with their sense of satisfaction or belonging is obvious. In the responses of international and domestic students to issues of teaching quality, differences primarily related to expectations regarding teaching staff approachability, availability and helpfulness. For students enrolled part-time or full-time different factors underpin attrition, and attrition triggers also differ on the basis of time spent on campus and average grades. Preliminary analysis suggests that having to take a loan or engage in full-time work to fund studies is a greater attrition risk factor in most universities than is the receipt of Centrelink benefits (which may be seen as a proxy indicator for low socio-economic status).
Analysis of responses to questions about the use and usefulness of student support interventions indicates that, in general, when students use personal support interventions these are mostly seen as very useful. However, data also indicate that many, and often the majority of, students have either not used or are not aware of the support services available.
Practically, the project has delivered, and will continue to deliver, significant value to the higher education sector. On the basis of evidence from the project, partner universities have begun addressing high-value student retention issues and it is expected that this evidence will continue to influence institutional decision-making for several years beyond the life of the project. Dissemination activities external to partner universities, including publication of five journal articles and numerous workshops or presentations, have assisted staff in other universities to reflect upon issues critical to student retention in both first year and beyond. Further publication outcomes are expected. Critically, as indicated in the independent project evaluation, “the project has directed much needed attention to factors associated with attrition in later years of the student experience (second and third years) … facilitated discussion around frameworks for evidence-based institutional responses that constitute effective interventions … [and] reinforced the need for institutions to collect their own data on the student experience to inform individual institutional responses and interventions”.

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Item Type: Report (Project Report)
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Additional Information: NOTE: the version of the report freely available in USQ ePrints does not include the journal articles in Appendices 8.2 - 8.6. The ALTC has been disbanded so no URL provided. This work is published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia Licence. Under this licence you are free to copy, distribute, display and perform the work and to make derivative works. Attribution: You must attribute the work to the original authors and include the following statement: Support for the original work was provided by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council Ltd, an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Noncommercial: You may not use this work for commercial purposes. Share Alike: If you alter, transform, or build on this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a licence identical to this one. For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the licence terms of this work. Any of these conditions can be waived if you obtain permission from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit <>
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business and Law - School of Management and Marketing (1 Jan 2011 - 30 Jun 2013)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business and Law - School of Management and Marketing (1 Jan 2011 - 30 Jun 2013)
Date Deposited: 22 Nov 2011 06:51
Last Modified: 03 Jul 2013 00:54
Uncontrolled Keywords: retention; attrition
Fields of Research (2008): 17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences > 1701 Psychology > 170103 Educational Psychology
13 Education > 1301 Education Systems > 130103 Higher Education
13 Education > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130305 Educational Counselling
Fields of Research (2020): 52 PSYCHOLOGY > 5201 Applied and developmental psychology > 520102 Educational psychology
39 EDUCATION > 3903 Education systems > 390303 Higher education
39 EDUCATION > 3904 Specialist studies in education > 390404 Educational counselling
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970113 Expanding Knowledge in Education

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