New study finds college life boosts academic success

Posted on January 31, 2012

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Residential students had and eighteen per cent better chance of getting 'A's

University students can greatly improve their chance of getting top marks, decrease their risks of failing subjects – and boost their prospects of continuing through to graduation…

The secret to such academic success is residential college life, according to a new La Trobe University study.

In research just published in the journal ‘Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning’ Laura Burge found that students living in colleges, particularly those in first-year, outperformed the wider university student body.

‘They achieved 18 per cent more ‘A’s and 21 per cent more ‘B’s. Even more significant is the comparative fail rate, with 49 per cent of residential students achieving fewer fail marks,’ she says.

Ms Burge is Acting Co-ordinator of ‘Residential Life’ at La Trobe. She says another significant benefit is a lower attrition rate for those students living in colleges: 13 to 17 per cent fewer dropped out between 2008 and 2010.
 
The La Trobe research is particularly significant in the context of Federal Government policy to increase opportunities for non-traditional higher education students – those from rural, Indigenous, first generation or low socio-economic backgrounds.

As universities begin their first year under a new deregulated admission system, Ms Burge says the research highlights the importance of ‘going beyond just providing increased access to higher education’. ‘It is simply not enough to give low-income students access to our universities and colleges,’ she says.

 Improving results for under-represented groups

‘We also need to ensure the availability and quality of continuing support programs to enable their success. The study shows there are lessons to be learnt about the importance of college life for improving educational outcomes for under-represented groups in society.

Laura Burge: potential to expand success of La Trobe model

‘Our experience is that, given the opportunity and appropriate structures and guidance, such students have the ability to become academic high-achievers, skilled leaders, communicators and talented future employees,’ says Ms Burge.

La Trobe is a multi-campus university serving regional communities. Some 17.7 per cent of students come from a low socio-economic background and 33.6 per cent from rural and remote areas.

Out of the 1,200 undergraduate students who live in La Trobe college style accommodation, 75 per cent have a rural or regional background.

Ms Burge says there is considerable potential to expand the success of the La Trobe residential services model into the wider university community. Probably the best way, she says, is to duplicate selected residential services initiatives and offer them on a larger scale to all university students.

‘The other way is to build stronger links with academic areas and the general student population, providing them with the option of joining select residential services activities and programs.’

The La Trobe Residential Services model

The La Trobe University Residential Services’ model centres on the unique role students themselves can play in enhancing their own and others’ development and in creating an equally important learning environment outside the university classroom.

It comprises four key areas: pastoral care & welfare; academic mentoring & support; community & outreach (which extends student volunteer activities into Asia, Africa and the Pacific); and student leadership. For example, the pastoral care network has a team of 150 senior student leaders.

‘It is now widely accepted that a considerable amount of student learning and development takes place outside traditional academic contexts like the lecture theatre, tutorial room or laboratory,’ says Ms Burge.

‘The things that prepare students for employment in an increasingly globalised world  are not only knowledge gained from their degree but, perhaps more importantly, the essential skills developed alongside, through internships, work experience, community and volunteer work, or everyday peer-to-peer interaction and social integration.’

Read the full report here