Student Retention: One College's Attempt To Deal With The Problem In The Light Of Recent Government Policy 1999-2002

Palmer, John Charles Joseph (2004). Student Retention: One College's Attempt To Deal With The Problem In The Light Of Recent Government Policy 1999-2002. EdD thesis The Open University.



This study investigates the reasons for, and potential managerial solutions to, the problem of high rates of student drop-out on full-time Humanities programmes at a further education (FE) college in a disadvantaged area of the North of England. As rates of student withdrawal have attracted the attention of policy makers, the research examines the assumptions which shaped the decision to define drop-out as a problem and to use funding mechanisms and the inspection process to penalise colleges which experience higher than average rates of drop-out. A review of the literature indicated that during the last ten years the dominant assumption that influenced the policy response to student drop-out appears to have been informed by research positioned within the school effectiveness paradigm. In particular, the study by Martinez (1995) and Davies (1997) reinforced the view that withdrawal is caused primarily by deficiencies in the quality of teaching and student support. An evaluation of their findings provided a starting point for the investigation into student drop-out at the case-study college.
Having identified serious flaws in the validity of their findings, this investigation, which used a range of research methods, including biographical interviews with students, suggests that withdrawal is caused by a complex combination of factors which are located mainly outside the college. Nevertheless, the study points to the delicate interaction between college-based and external influences on both leaving and completing. Consequently, a number of opportunities to improve college-based practices were identified and incorporated into a series of tentative recommendations for a managerial response to the issue of drop-out. The investigation concluded with an examination of the messages which could be drawn from the findings by those who shape national policy. It contends that the continuation of the current policy is likely to be counterproductive in terms of retention improvement and could also undermine other priorities such as widening participation.

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