Should I stay or should I go? The first year experience of undergraduate students at Lincoln University
Each year, hundreds of first year students head to the Lincoln University campus to embark on university study. Many of them, however, do not continue past the first few weeks. When students decide to leave university without completing their degree, they become one of the growing attrition statistics. Attrition represents a significant cost to both the institution and the student. With universities becoming more dependent on student contributions, due to decreased government funding and an increasingly competitive tertiary education market, attrition has become a major issue for New Zealand institutions. It is widely accepted that most attrition occurs in the first year; therefore, to understand attrition, an understanding of the first year experience at university is required. This study sought to examine the first year experience of undergraduate students at Lincoln University. A total of twenty-three, in depth, qualitative interviews were conducted with first year students. Five students, who had been interviewed for a previous study while in their first year, were re-interviewed in their last year of university. Of the twenty-three students, twenty-one were still studying at Lincoln, while one student had transferred to another university and one student had left the university system altogether. Results of this study indicate that one of the key factors in the retention of first year students at Lincoln is the acknowledgement that there are at least three distinct groups of students: school leavers; gap students; mature students. These three groups arrive at Lincoln with different experiences of a number of preparatory factors such as prior academic experience, family and social background and perceptions of personal ability. It is during their first year that students have their initial experiences of interacting with various aspects of the university setting - the environment, the people and the institutional systems. The two major facets of interaction identified in this study can be categorised as social and academic. It was found that each group of students encountered these aspects of the university setting in quite different ways which gave rise to quite distinct first year experiences. It emerged that these different groups of students require support for the different facets of the experience (for example, academic and social) at different times, for different reasons if the overall experience is to be positive. This support may be found through the students' existing support networks, but it can also provide the foundations for specific retention strategies. Finally, suggestions were made for future research.... [Show full abstract]
Keywordsstudent retention; student withdrawal; attrition; student experience; first year experience; university students; undergraduate students; Lincoln University
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