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First-year university retention and academic performance of non-traditional students entering via an Australian pre-university enabling program

Lisciandro, J.G. (2022) First-year university retention and academic performance of non-traditional students entering via an Australian pre-university enabling program. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 62 (2).


Introduction: Pre-tertiary enabling programs have become an increasingly popular pathway to university in Australia in recent years, however little is published about how well enabling students fare once they start university. This paper examines and compares first-year retention and academic outcomes of students that entered Murdoch University between 2014 and 2016 via successful completion of its enabling program, OnTrack. A greater proportion of students transitioning via OnTrack were from equity and disadvantaged backgrounds than any other entry pathway; thereby demonstrating an important function of this enabling program in boosting the representation of these students at the university. Further, OnTrack-pathway students were retained at a rate that was similar or better than students entering via all other admission pathways, despite poorer academic performance. This persistence suggests enhanced resilience amongst this cohort, potentially built during their enabling education experience. Multivariate regression modelling was also undertaken, revealing that admission pathway, demographic and enrolment factors collectively explainedvery little of the observed variation in student outcomes for all first year students, and were particularly poor predictors of academic underperformance. Thus, once students are enrolled in undergraduate study, student outcomes may be better explained by student variables not captured in university databases, such as personal circumstances or psychological factors. In summary, these findings provide empirical data to support the notion that enabling programs have been successful in ‘enabling’ access and participation of students who are capable but otherwise lack opportunity, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, enabling pathway students may experience ongoing challenges that impact their academic performance, and thus future equity and access policy should address appropriate mechanisms for supporting the broader transition experience of these students.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Vice Chancellery
Publisher: Adult Learning Australia
Copyright: © 2022 Adult Learning Australia
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