Why middle-year students fail and how to help them

An undergraduate degree is a marathon not a sprint, but interest in attrition focuses on the breathless first year.

Colin Jevons and Sophie Lindsay wanted to know why students who should have settled in falter in the middle stretch of a degree – so they looked to the record.

In new and already discussed research, the Monash U business academics analyse student replies to an un-identified institution’s exclusion committee. The top six reasons struggling students provided for their predicament are not especially surprising; an expressed “need” to work, depression/anxiety, financial strain, lack of support, relationship difficulties and/or a declared need to help with home finances.

Students also cited loss of motivation, which is curious in that they were arguing against exclusion brought on by their poor performance. This may well point to the complex emotional state struggling students are in, which do not respond to single-issue solutions. “Our data suggest that consideration be given to placing mental health services at the front line of support for students at risk of involuntary attrition,” Jevons and Lindsay suggest.

And this means universities need to up their investment in help for faltering students. “This interconnectedness of multiple factors adds a further layer of complexity for university managers trying to plan limited budgets to provide the most cost-efficient and effective support for students in difficulty.”

But finding ways to help may become an investment in institutional self-help, as well as student support with the feds considering attrition as a performance indicator for funding new undergraduate places at each university.  “The need to better understand student attrition is important given the financial, social and emotional costs and also recent Australian government scrutiny,” they write.


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