Important Factors That Lead To Student Attrition Education Essay

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Overview of the issue

How to attract and retain students is an enduring question for training providers of education. There are several reasons why institutions might want to discover why students leave education without completing a program. Patrick, Myers & Van Dusen (1979) assert that most are related to the increasing financial burdens that institutes are experiencing. Though the specific uses of attrition studies vary, several generalisations can be made. The studies can provide information about non-continuing students and give an institution a better understanding of why students leave, which in many cases, can indicate corrective actions that might encourage students to remain. Though other reasons do not always lead so easily to corrective action, they can, at least, document why particular kinds of students drop-out.

The purpose of this study is to explore and examine the problems related to non-continuing students and rising attrition rates in NSW AMES and where possible take corrective action to help increase student retention.


NSW AMES provides an extensive range of adult education, training and employment programs to a diverse client community at a state level. In 2008-2009, AMES worked with almost ? people from ? countries. The majority of these were students in the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP). The AMEP is a federally government funded program that provides English classes to new migrants and refugees and is free for most adult migrants. Students can learn English for up to 510 hours or until they reach functional English, whichever comes first. AMEP program uses Certificates in Spoken and Written English (CSWE) as the curriculum and recognises four stages of learning. Students work at the level appropriate to their needs, interest and abilities. AMEP is a modular approach that enables students to focus on general skills development or choose a particular area such as listening, speaking, reading, writing or numeracy.

NSW AMES is in a position whereby the number of service providers entering the field of AMEP delivery has increased competition for funding and diversification of services by AMEP-funded providers. There has also been criticism from funding bodies and government ministers of the effectiveness of the program.

With the Federal government initiatives to move towards workplace language and employment, this research aims to assist create a viable, effective and efficient service provider underpinning what will be needed in AMEP classrooms and what factors will influence the retention of students.

Statement of the Problem

Currently NSW AMES has an issue with student attrition. On average, students who 'drop out' of the AMEP course typically complete approximately 200 hours of their 510 entitlement. While NSW AMES is generally aware of family, health and employment issues, this research aims to understand some of the negative factors that could be influencing student attrition and can help indicate corrective actions that might encourage students to remain. Armed with this knowledge, NSW AMES will be in a better position to provide an environment that would encourage students to stay.

Although some reasons may not lead so easily to corrective action, it will be documented why particular kinds of students leave.

Significance of Research

Anticipated uses to be made of the research

The outcomes of the research will assist NSW AMES provide information about student attrition and help NSW AMES predict what kinds of students would likely to leave and help the organisation take corrective action to increase student retention.

Data previously collected in 2005 by NSW AMES suggests that family, health and employment issues are all factors that influence a student's ability to continue their study. Despite this, there is a need to further understand what influences non-continuation. This is important considering that for xx% of discontinuing students, xx% in 2008-2009, their reasons for withdrawal were registered as unknown.

As NSW AMES positions itself for a new contract in January 2011, improving the student retention rate for NSW will also assist ensure that provision of services to the required standard is maintained throughout the Contract period. It is important to learn about what factors might facilitate students to complete their studies and examine the factors that lead to student attrition. The aim of this research is to explore and examine these issues.

Relevance of the research to education

Undertaking AMEP will provide opportunities for students for further education and training opportunities which are linked to gaining skills and knowledge that will enable individuals become more competent in how they plan and manage the various pathways throughout their lives. We know that undertaking AMEP increases the chances of getting a job, more here from employment pathways research from Helen.

The research also highlights an opportunity for NSW AMES to provide information about non-continuing students. NSW AMES knows very little about what happens to students who discontinue and what happens in regards to managing various pathways, like getting a job, establishing careers and entering further training (page 7, Callan, 2005).

Under their contractual obligation with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), and the AMEP Planning Accountability and Performance Framework, NSW AMES is required to demonstrate they are meeting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of efficiency, effectiveness (including reach, retention, satisfaction, client settlement and language outcomes).

The research outcomes will help identify what measures will be put in place to assist NSW AMES improve student outcomes and the retention of AMEP students and what strategies they will employ to improve service delivery.

Student profiles will be established to build an understanding of a the student base and assist build models that permit prediction of how many students are likely to withdraw. These models will also assist prediction of non-continuing students and determine benchmarks against which NSW AMES performance can be measured that supports continuous improvement.

Research Questions

The objectives of this study involves quantitative research with former non-continuing students to identify and measure issues behind actual non-continuation. The second phase involves qualitative research with a subset of current students to explore and understand some of the issues around non-continuation and provide information that can help take corrective action to increase student retention. These issues suggest the following questions:

What are the important factors that lead to student attrition in NSW AMES?

What are the socio-demographic and related characteristics of non-continuing students?

Which causes of withdrawal are within the influence or control of NSW AMES?

What makes the most difference to student completion and withdrawal?

Where should NSW AMES concentrate their energies to make corrective actions and what strategies will encourage students to continue their studies?

Limitations of the Study

Phase I

Many special problems arise in trying to consult with former students, for instance, students who may be disillusioned or displeased with the educational process may be unwilling to participate. Locating and obtaining responses from students no longer in residence in Sydney is problematic. NSW AMES students come from a diverse cultural and educational background and barriers may differ by cultural group and/or an individual's unique circumstances. Non-continuing students have possibly a low level of interest in AMEP courses and a low level of motivation to complete a survey. Like many student populations, they are also highly mobile. As a consequence it is difficult to ensure up to date information on contact details that might assure a greater likelihood of students receiving the questionnaire.

Phase II

In Phase II there may be problems associated with group culture and dynamics and achieving balance in the group interaction (Fontana and Frey, 1994 cited by Punch, 2009, p. 147). It will therefore be important for the role of the researcher to function more as a moderator or facilitator and less as an interviewer. That is the researcher will be facilitating, moderating, monitoring and recording group interaction. A successful in-depth interview has many of the characteristics of a prolonged and intimate conversation. Skill in this sort of interviewing, and especially in probing meanings, interpretations and symbolic significance, does not come naturally, and may required specific training to develop that skills (Punch, 2009, p.148).

Review of the literature

Past research demonstrates that non-continuing students are due to a set of complex set of institutional, social and personal factors. The following provides a brief review of some of the key literature of the factors behind student retention.

Look up McInnes (2,000).

Student retention research first appeared about 40 years ago, mainly in the higher educational sector and was typically viewed through the lense of psychology. One of the most prominent models addressing student attrition is that of Tinto. The origin of Tinto's (1975) conceptual model is embedded in the foundation of Durkheim's (1897) suicide theory as well as Spady's (1970) model of the student dropout process. Spady (1971) elaborated on Durkheim's conclusions and subsequently outlined the presumed role that the social structure played in the retention process. Soon afterwards, Tinto, borrowing liberally from Spady's and Durkeheim's conclusions, fine tuned the details and elaborated upon their work (eSSORTMENT, n.d.).

Extensive research has been conducted on retention in mainly higher education using different methods and approaches over several decades primarily in the USA (Astin, 1997; Braxton, 2000; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991; Tinto, 1993) and Britain (York, 2000) but also in Australia (McInnis, Hartely, Polesel & Teese, 2000; Walker, 2000). Most of the research however, has been conducted at four-year colleges and universities rather than vocational/community colleges. However, institutions do routinely collect a broad array of information on their students' backgrounds, socioeconomic status, academic progress and their academic goals and social involvement (Caison, 2007). Retention studies often focused on a particular area of research such as the effective of student expectations, career decision making, student financial aid or the institute environment. Some research has concentrated on special student populations such as older adults or minorities. Institutional researchers have also evaluated several factors simultaneously in efforts to predict student retention or to examine the relationships among several variable suing conceptual models of student attrition (Hoyt, 1999).

Research on factors related to student retention traditionally relied on surveying a student cohort and following them for a specified period of time to determine whether they ultimately dropped out or whether they continued their education. Using this design, researchers worked to validate theoretical models of retention including Tinto's (1987, 1993) widely employed model of student integration (Mallette and Cabrera, 1991; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1980, 1983; Terenzini, Lorang and Pascarella, 1981 cited by Caison, 2007). Results of these efforts lead other researchers to elaborate Tinto's theory by integrating components of toher theoretical approaches such as Astin's (1984) theory of involvement (Berger and Milem, 1999) and Bean's (1985) student attrition model (Bernger and Braxton, 1998; Cabrera, Nora and Castaneda, 1993) using a variety of survey instruments comprised of various scales designed to measure the components under consideration.

Research Design and Methodology

The project aims to conduct mixed method research in order to further explore the results of a quantitative survey of all 2008-2009 discontinuing students in Phase I and through the Phase II, conduct qualitative research in the form of a focus group. The focus group will be a sample of students who are continuing students close to achieving their AMEP and explore and examine in more detail the experiences and motivations of those students. The following provides the rationale to support mixed method research for this proposal.

Mixed Method Research

Mixed method research provides a framework for conducting a study that incorporates quantitative and qualitative research approaches. In each mixed research study, a combination of quantitative and qualitative data is collected, analysed and interpreted using systematic principles. There are three stages:

Selecting the research objective (based on the research questions)

Collecting the research data

Analyzing the research data (to help answer the research questions)

The key idea is that you must make two major decisions. You decide whether you want to operate largely within one dominant paradigm or not and you decide whether you want to conduct the phases concurrently or sequentially.

This study will use a mixed model using both quantitative and qualitative across two stages of the research. It is proposed to use the paradigms sequentially with the qualitative method as the first phase followed by the qualitative method. Pure quantitative research relies on the collection of quantitative date (numerical data) whereas qualitative research relies on the collection of qualitative date (non- numerical data such as words). Mixed method research involves the mixing of quantitative and qualitative research methods, approaches, or paradigm approaches (Johnson & Christiensen, p30, 200?). The quantitative research will focus on the deductive component of the scientific method with major emphasis placed on quantitative data i.e. identifying the factors for student attrition. The qualitative research relies more on the inductive component of the scientific method and will be used to examine narrative data to follow up and further explore the results from the quantitative data.

The fundamental principle of mixed method research says that is is wise to collect multiple sets of data using different research methods in such a way that the resulting mixture or combination has complementary strengths and overlapping weaknesses (add authors here, p.50). This helps to improve the quality of the research because the different research methods have different strengths and weaknesses.

By employing both the quantitative and qualitative research it is combining both the deductive and inductive inquiries of the scientific research methods as well as use of a variety of data collection and analysis methods. Although mixed methods research may require a considerable amount of time and energy a distinct advantage is that it provides a more comprehensive and enhanced image of the research problem that is under investigation than would either one of the designs by itself (Kalaian, 2008).

The study is designed to investigate the reasons students leave NSW AMES without completing the AMEP program and provide corrective action. A Quantitative method will document the student profiles including number and percentage of students and reasons for leaving. The Qualitative method will provide information to help NSW AMES take corrective action by further analysis of a sub group of current students.

As a pragmatist towards research, I do not view any single method dogmatically and adhere to the compatibility thesis rather than the incompatibility thesis of the 'paradigm wars' (reference here).

The Explanatory Research Design will underpin the mixed method research being conducted in this proposal, where the first phase quantitative results guide the follow-up qualitative investigation in the second phase (Lodico, Spaulding & Voegtle, 2006).

Research Design

Explanatory Design

In the explanatory design, data is collected in two phases with quantitative data collected first and qualitative data collected at a later time. This would allow the qualitative data to illustrate or further explain the quantitative data (Lodico, Spaulding and Voegthe, page 284).

You could mix within the type of analysis stage by examining narrative data qualitatively(search for major themes) and quantitatively (document the number of students who leave for reasons not amenable to corrective action).

The quantitative data will be the major focus in determining the factors that predict student retention that NSW AMES needs to address by corrective action.

(Johnson & Christensen, 2?)

An explanatory design conducts a large-scale quantitative survey focusing on both levels of satisfaction and factors affecting those levels. A second stage qualitative study might deliberately select sub samples of students of differing satisfaction levels for in depth interviewing in order to gain a fuller understanding of both the nature of student satisfaction and the way different factors influence it.

Keith Punch p296

Explanatory design is used where first phase quantitative results guide the selection of a sub sample for follow up in-depth qualitative investigation in the second phase to determine corrective action.

John W Creswell (2002), page 566

An explanatory mixed method design (also called a two-phase model, Creswell, 1994) consists of first collecting quantitative data and then collecting qualitative data to help explain or elaborate on the quantitative results. This design is perhaps the most popular form of mixed method designs in educational research. The rationale for this approach is that the quantitative data and results provide a general picture of the research problem; more analysis, specifically through qualitative data collection, is needed to refine, extend or explain the general picture.

This design has the advantage of clearly identified quantitative and qualitative parts, an advantage for readers as well as for those designing, conducting the study. More page 567

Analysis of Explanatory Design - page 571

Identify rationale for mixed methods - page 579 - 580 key points.

Population and Sample

The sample is a subgroup of the target population that researchers plans for the purpose of making generalisations about the target population. In order to draw accurate conclusions about a target population, the sample needs to be representative of the population (Creswell, 2002, p.163). One of the first decisions to make is determining who can best answer the research questions. In this proposal, a sample discontinuing students will be mailed inviting them and seeking their permission to participate in a survey. The ARMs database will be interrogated to identify the sample of students with no recorded achievement to determine the characteristics of students for the 2008/2009 year.

As Leedy & Ormrod (200?) comment, people are chosen for a particular purpose. Purpose sample may be appropriate for certain research problems. However, the researcher should always provide a rationale why he/she selected the particular sample i.e. non-continuing.

Punch, page 251 (2005) The logic of quantitative sampling is that the researcher analyses data collected from the sample but wishes in the end to make statements about the population as a whole from the the sample data is drawn.

This involves a sample-to-population inference, the central questions being:

How representative is the sample of the population?

How big will the sample be and why?

All non-continuing students identified from the ARMS database.

How will be they chosen and why?

They will be chosen as non-continuing…

What claims will be made for its representativeness?

By selecting all non-continuing students for 2008/2009 there is a maximum change…..

Data Collection & Procedures

Quantitative Data Collection

Creswell (2002, p.159) explains that quantitative researchers use a process to collect data. This process contains several steps including obtaining permissions; selecting participants; identifying data options and recording and administering data collection. The aim of qualitative data is to gather information from individuals who can help address the research questions.

The survey questionnaire (See Appendix ?), respondents will be informed in a cover letter than in completing the survey they are assisting the researcher to better understand student's motivation in completing AMEP studies.

Qualitative Data Collection

The findings of the data analysis and survey will be discussed in a focus group with current students who are close to completing their AMEP to determine their view on the meaning and significance of key themes of findings. i.e. narrative data analysis. The group will be directed by questions and topics developed or refined based on the quantitative data with the goal of building on and explaining the quantitative data and identify strategies that will encourage students to continue their study.

Focus group interviews can make an important contribution in education research. The feature of the focus groups is the explicit use of the group interaction to produce data and insights that would be less accessible without the interaction to produce data and insights that would be less accessible without the interaction found in a group (Morgan, 1988 cited by Punch, 2009 P.147). A well facilitated focus group interaction can assist in bringing to the surface aspects of a situation that might not otherwise be exposed. The group situation can also stimulate people in making explicit their views, perceptions, motives and reasons. This makes group interviews an attractive data gather option when research is trying to probe those aspects of people's behavior. They are inexpensive, data-rich, flexible, stimulating, recall-aiding, cumulative and elaborative. The data from the group interviews are the transcripts (or other records) of the group's interaction.

Quantitative Research Phase 1 Procedures

This section includes listing the specific ways the data will be collected.


Survey preparation

Contacting the Sample

Survey Administration

Qualitative Research Phase 2 Procedures

This sections includes the specific ways the data will be collect.

Focus Group Interviews

Preparing the interview

Selecting and contacting the sample

Conducting the interview

Data Analysis

Analysis of quantitative date - survey data

Punch page 279 (2005) A useful framework to simplify what can become a complicated analysis as there are likely to be many variables involves is to look at it in three main stages:

Descriptive analysis - done on a variable-by-variable basis using means, standard deviations (or variances) and frequency distribution

Page 280

Which is concerned with summarizing and describing data - summarises the response with percentages

Leedy & Ormrod

Frequency counts

Draws inference about a particular population from the responses in the sample


People can respond to questions with assurance their responses will be anonymous and so they may be more truthful than they would be in a personal interview.

Cover letter - p. 207 Leedy & Ormrod

Using a spreadsheet the data will be entered into rows and columns. The software can make the appropriate calculations. The spreadsheet will automatically produce charts from the data.

We can identify the:

Central tendency as a predictor

Mean: most frequently occurring score

Median: the midpoint between lowest to highest scores

Standard deviation: deviations of and individual measures from the mean of the distribution

Frequency distributions: individual scores in the distribution are tabulated, according to how many respondents achieved each score or gave each response or fell into each category

A useful way to summarise and understand data.

Analysis of qualitative data - focus group

After analysis of the outcomes of the quantitative research, Phase II involves conducting qualitative research. The purpose of the research is the interpretation - the researcher to gain insights about the nature of a particular phenomenon, develop new concepts or theoretical perspectives. Using the Explanatory research design, develop research questions will not be able to identified until phase I has been completed. The data will be analyses subsequently.

Leedy & Ormord page 159

Interview several participants simultaneously in a focus group (e.g. Nueman, 1994). The researcher will gather several people together to discuss a particular issue. The researcher will facilitate the issues to be discussed, makes sure no one dominates and keeps people focused on the topic. Focus groups are useful where time is limited, people feel more comfortable talking in a group than alone, interaction among participants maybe more informative than individually conducted interviews.

Organise data - Leedy & Ormrod page 161

Lodico, Spaulding & Voegthe, page 301

Preparing and organizing the data

Reviewing and exploring the data

Coding data into categories

Constructing descriptions of people, activities

Building themes

Reporting and interpreting the data

Focus Groups Interviews - page 206 Creswell

Interview - page 198 Creswell

Conduct focus group interviews, audio-tape the interview, and transcribe the interview.

Reliability and Validity

The goal of good research is to have measures that are reliable and valid. It is important to observe several actors that can result in unreliable data including questions that are ambiguous or unclear; participants are fatigued, are nervous and misinterpret questions .

Validity means the researcher can draw meaningful and justifiable inferences from results of a sample or population. The ability to draw valid conclusion from data includes observing several factors including poorly designed studies, participant fatigue, stress and misunderstanding of questions on the survey, inability to make useful outcomes from results; poorly designed questions or measures of variable and information that has little use and application (Creswell, p. 183, 2002).


Lodico, Spaulding & Voegthe

Page 149

Page 150

According to these rights, individuals participating in a study have a certain rights, including the right to be briefed about the study Creswell, page 13.

Creswell (2002) page 187

Data collection should be ethical and it should respect individuals and sites. Obtaining, permission before starting to collect data is not only a part of the informed consent process but is also an ethical practice. Protecting the anonymity of individuals by assigning individuals numbers to be returned instruments and keeping the identify of individuals confidential offers privacy to participants. During data collection, the information is viewed a confidential and not shared with other participants or individuals outside of the study. Individuals who choose not participate will be respected for their choice. Even when the provide assent to be involved, people may back out or not show up for an observation or interview. Attempts to reschedule may be futile and you might need to select another person for data collection rather forcing an individual to participate.

By obtaining permissions and clearly communicating the purpose of the study before you collect the data, you can lessen the reservations some individuals may have about your presence.


Patrick, C., Myers, E. & Van Dusen, W. (1979). A manual for conducting student attrition studies. Rev Ed


Caison, A.L. (2007). Research in higher education, Vol. 48, No. 4

Appendix ?

Definition of Terms


Adult Migrant English Program


The recording of non-continuing (need definition from ARMS). However, the meaning of non-continuing has changed because many students return to study after withdrawing from a course and a substantial number return at some time later. It is possible to check the actual number of student with no recorded achievement by examining their history of enrolment.