Why Do BA Photography Students Persist in Their Studies at a Small University? A Case Study

Cosgrove, Stephanie (2011). Why Do BA Photography Students Persist in Their Studies at a Small University? A Case Study. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f1d7


Relatively little research has been conducted into undergraduate student persistence in an art and design context: despite significant political interest in retention by the Higher Education sector. A greater understanding of students' decision-making processes can encourage institutional change as well as meeting stakeholders' political incentives. This study aims to identify the internal and external forces at play in the persistence of BA Photography students within a single art, design and media specialist institution. It seeks to explore the relationships between these forces, and to generate recommendations for institutional practices to encourage student success and persistence.

This study is 'insider' case study research, into the single unit of my own teaching area. However, I also position my study within larger social, psychological and institutional contexts. The temporal nature of the student life cycle and the possibility of reciprocal change, (at both internal psychological and external institutional levels), is explored using mixed methods, sequentially using both quantitative (e. g. surveys) and qualitative (e. g. interviews) methods of data collection in 'waves' and forms the 'sequential reflective chain or spiral' design recommended by Hartley and Chesworth (2000).

Findings indicate the internal dimensions of 'individual' student contexts to be the most important factor in the persistence process. Individual experiences such as age, prior qualification, and residential status as well as goals and values, interact with the wider institutional and local course milieu to influence persistence decisions. The research shows the extent and reasons for student persistence, despite potentially 'doubting', in particular the importance of 'people' within the persistence process, the increasing value that students place on the local course context, the importance of interest in the subject of study and a process of temporal alignment within the peer group as instrumental goals become more important as students progress through different Levels of study.

I discuss how the external sphere of institutions and courses of study are 'situated' within specific contexts and institutional frameworks, to identify which contexts might be indigenous to the art and design environment, and which are transferable to the wider HE sector. It is hoped that the recommendations that emerge from this study will help other institutions 'improve retention by design' (Johnston, 1997).

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