22 SES 13 B, How Can We Enhance First-Year Students' Achievement and Persistence in Higher Education?
The first year in university education is crucial in the academic career, but is also experienced as very challenging (Christie, Munro, & Fisher, 2004). On the one hand, it may prepare students for a successful academic career during and after university. On the other hand, students may also struggle or even drop out during this first year. Thus, improving first-year achievement in university context is one of the concerns in many European countries (Beerkens-Soo & Vossensteyn, 2009).
Especially, determining which factors influence first-year academic achievement and persistence remains an important issue on many European political agendas. Nowadays, many interventions have been introduced based on the assumption that it improves achievement and persistence. This symposium focuses on the factors that determine achievement and persistence, and interventions that can influence these factors. Besides a scientific contribution, we reflect critically on those interventions by making use of studies conducted in three European countries. As such, this symposium is not only interesting for educational researchers, but also for European policy makers and educators.
There is a multitude of perspectives on factors that affect first-year academic success, varying from the impact of student factors, of curricular factors and for example combinations of these (see for example, Bruinsma, 2003). This variety of research on first-year academic success is the subject under investigation in the first study in this symposium, that by Van Rooij et al. In their review study, they investigated first year achievement in two Dutch-speaking countries, namely Belgium and The Netherlands. Their study provides a contemporary overview of predictors of achievement and persistence in Dutch and Flemish higher education. Research articles were searched through ERIC, PsycInfo, SocIndex and Web of Science and showed that besides previous achievement, several motivational and behavioural variables impact achievement and persistence in the first year. Interestingly, the review study also indicated that in many studies the theoretical framework was often not made explicit. Instead of building on a theory, higher education researchers tend to rely on previous research that is very fragmented. Also different researchers operationalized and measured the concepts in varying ways.
To gain more insight into how these factors influence persistence, dropout and success, several researchers have started to investigate the effects of interventions to improve persistence and to prevent dropout. The studies of Bosse et al., and Brouwer et al. are two examples of studies where interventions were examined. Bosse et al. were interested in the question whether the variety of first-year interventions actually met German first-year students’ needs. In their study, they identified first-year challenges and explored the role of social, individual and organisational diversity factors for the first-year experience. Brouwer et al examined the effect of engagement on motivation and success in 400 Dutch students in the social sciences. Their preliminary findings showed that engagement, which can be enhanced by learning communities, is important for motivation and study success in the first year.
As was mentioned afore, our symposium aims to provide more information on factors that determine first-year achievement and persistence and on how these factors work. We want to examine this problem starting rather broad (with the review study), than go into more detail by discussing two studies that use interventions and finally, we will discuss the implications of our findings together with the audience. To achieve this, we start with an introduction to the problem, describe the research on success in two Dutch speaking countries, and describe the two intervention studies (in Germany and the Netherlands). This is followed by a critical review by the discussant and a broader discussion with the audience.
Beerkens-Soo, M. & Vossensteyn, H. (2009). Higher education issues and trends from an international perspective. Report prepared for the Veerman Committee. Enschede: Center for Higher Education Policy Studies. Bruinsma, M. (2003). Effectiveness of higher education. Factors that determine outcomes of university education. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Groningen: GION. Christie, H., Munro, M., & Fisher, T. (2004). Leaving university early: exploring the differences between continuing and non‐continuing students. Studies in Higher Education, 29(5), 617-636, doi: 10.1080/0307507042000261580
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