UOW takes proactive measures in student retention

Left to right: Transitions Officer Sean Douglas, Transitions Manager Dr Colin Cortie, Transitions Coordinator Rachel Glinatsis
and Re-engagement Coordinator Lauren Shiels.

UOW has taken steps to help mitigate the loss of students who are more vulnerable to dropping out of their studies, by setting up a new Student Transition and Retention team within the Outreach, Pathways and Co-Curricular Department.

After a review of the Universities Higher Education and Participation and Partnership Program which is government funding for primarily low socio economic students and equity students, UOW has acknowledged it is leading the way in getting students into the University through its outreach programs, but there are still gaps in the student study cycle which need to be addressed.

The review revealed an ongoing vulnerability where students are dropping out some time between enrolment and course completion, particularly in the ranks of the low socio economic students and equity students.

Dr Colin Cortie is heading up the new Student Transition and Retention team and says there are some key factors contributing to students not fulfilling their degree.

“Unfortunately for students generally, they can hit barriers such as academic problems or they pick the wrong course or want to travel or work and they drop out, but for equity students there are additional challenges, it’s often family commitments or having to pay the bills.”

Colin says sometimes the reason for leaving their studies is that they struggle to understand the university, including processes and procedures, academic terms and policies - all factors which can prove intimidating for those not familiar with the environment.

The team’s aim is to look at ways to give the students some agency and personal investment in their degree, so they have confidence and feel welcome at the University.

“The ideal scenario would be for a student to identify they have a problem and be able to ask for help, find the help they need and sort through the problem.

“Ultimately what we want to help facilitate is for students to having a strong sense of purpose, a strong sense of agency and a strong sense of belonging. They know why they’re here, they know what they have to contribute to the University and to society and if they can have that, I think they’ll be unstoppable, both at uni and of course in their long term success,” Colin said.

He believes it’s getting the basics right that can help make a big difference to the new students’ experience.

“It can be something as simple as saying welcome in their first lecture, and we’re glad to have you here or just understanding where a student is coming from and acknowledging there are different pathways into uni, some from high school and others as part time mature age students.

“We’re really just trying to find ways of connecting with the students and making sure they understand institutional language.”

He says there is some foundational work which needs to be done in order to be able to gather information from students about their university experience and what the perceived challenges are.

“We are mapping the student life-cycle at the moment and trying to figure out how students relate to our institutional stages. For some, it’s a very straightforward process of enrolment, attending class and taking exams, but for others it’s far more complicated on the personal side of things.

“We’ll be doing a lot of listening to students; we want to come up with better ways to communicate with them and better ways for them to communicate with us. And we’ll be doing focus groups -that will be a big part of the process.”

Colin says it’s not a one size fits all approach to retaining students, they will be paying close attention to what students are saying and taking an approach of continuous improvement for the program.

“I don’t think we’ll find a magic bullet to find one program that suits all students all the time, it will be a matter of trying lots of different things. We will be working to capture as many students as we can through as many different ways as possible.”