Daily BulletinDaily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by James Arvanitakis, Professor in Cultural and Social Analysis, Western Sydney University
image

Despite 20 years of focus on improving university retention rates, we are still losing one in five of our first-year students.

And the release of a new report by TEQSA again reminds us of the challenges of retention.

The report highlights that, on average, universities have a 20% attrition rate. This builds on an article by The Australian earlier this year which showed that one in three university students failed to complete the course they began within six years of enrolling.

First year challenges

The challenges that first-year university students face in their journey are many: from adjusting to new expectations and environments, lack of university support in assisting with this transition, managing different work-life balance issues, being overwhelmed, and of course, costs.

Many of these issues are particularly significant for first-in-family students who often lack role models or social capital to adjust to expectations and unexpected challenges they confront.

This is not a unique Australian challenge, and is confronting higher education institutes worldwide.

Free textbooks a possible solution?

One solution that has been tried, implemented and is proving successful is the introduction of free textbooks for first year students under the umbrella of “inclusive access”.

It is an important strategy because textbooks are both a powerful pedagogical tool that can keep students engaged and can be prohibitive to students as well as being highly costs prohibitive.

This is a strategy that started in the US and spread to the UK. Now my own institution, Western Sydney University, has implemented it too.

The inclusive access textbook strategy takes a number of forms.

In some instances, this involves the university producing specific materials for students which they access for free or open source.

In others, such as the US, institutions have partnered with publishers and universities to pilot an inclusive access purchasing model, in which the cost of digital textbooks is included in a student’s course fee.

But why textbooks?

Success at university is a combination of pedagogical and social factors, which include support networks and university transition strategies.

Student performance and retention is enhanced by access to high-quality resources that they can afford.

Textbooks are a powerful pedagogical tool that can improve engagement. In my own teaching experience, a well-written and relevant textbook allows students to better understand the broader subject narrative. That is, it is not about learning individual topics such as gender, class, race and technology. Rather, it allows the student to see the story of arc of the complex and intersectional factors that shape our societies.

It is this understanding of the broader subject area that means students can contextualise their own experiences and learn to apply the knowledge critically.

It is a tool I have used successfully. For example, when introducing a textbook - which students paid for at the time - I saw retention rates improve. We went from a drop-out rate of 22% to less than 2%, and in the feedback forms students repeatedly quoted the textbook that I introduced (and I should note, authored).

While there is little evidence of a direct link between access to a textbook and improving retention rates, high education consultants Academica did report that free textbooks improved retention by up to 10% (though provided little detail).

Regardless, textbooks play a vital role in engaging students and improving the quality of education - which is likely to improve their chances of completion.

This has been progressively emphasised in research that dates back to the 1990s. The work is consistent in both low-income nations as well as wealthy countries. It is also important across disciplines.

Implications

As we continue to expand access to universities, such inclusive strategies have never been more important – and the TEQSA report highlights we still have a long way to go.

In the US, the emerging evidence is that this is proving effective, both in popularity and success.

Indiana University, for example, saw inclusive-access model started as a pilot in 2009. By the 2015-16 academic year, more than 40,000 students got at least one textbook through what the university calls its eText initiative.

In Australia, Australia National University has found that Open Access textbooks are resulting in better educational outcomes and “a greater set of capabilities to start their careers with as they are more likely to complete their degrees”.

The implication is clear: to improve the attrition rates that remain all too high, we need to use the emerging technology to promote proven pedagogical methods. The availability of free textbooks is one such strategy that is starting to show results.

Authors: James Arvanitakis, Professor in Cultural and Social Analysis, Western Sydney University

Read more http://theconversation.com/free-textbooks-for-first-year-university-students-could-help-improve-retention-rates-77786

Memo to Australia's states: try renovating your tax system before asking for a new one

arrow_forward

The market is not our master — only state-led business cooperation will drive real economic recovery

arrow_forward

Why outer space matters in a post-pandemic world

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

FORDHAM: Thank you very much for talking to us. I know it's a difficult day for all of those Qantas workers. Look, they want to know in the short term, are you going to extend JobKeeper?   PRI...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison interview with Neil Mitchell

NEIL MITCHELL: Prime minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, how are you?   MICHELL: I’m okay, a bit to get to I apologise, we haven't spoken for a while and I want to get t...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham

PRIME MINISTER: I've always found that this issue on funerals has been the hardest decision that was taken and the most heartbreaking and of all the letters and, you know, there's been over 100...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

SEO In A Time of COVID-19: A Life-Saver

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a lot of uncertainty for everyone across the world. It has had one of the most devastating impacts on the day-to-day lives of many including business o...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

5 Ways Risk Management Software Can Help Your Business

No business is averse to risks. Nobody can predict the future or even plan what direction a business is going to take with 100% accuracy. For this reason, to avoid issues or minimise risks, some for...

News Company - avatar News Company

5 Ways To Deal With Unemployment and Get Back Into the Workforce

Being unemployed has a number of challenges and they’re not all financial. It can affect you psychologically and sometimes it can be difficult to dig your way out of a rut when you don’t have a job ...

News Company - avatar News Company



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion