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You are reading: Choosing University: The Impact of Schools and Schooling

Written by Jenny Gore, Kathryn Holmes, Max Smith, Andrew Lyell, Hywel Ellis and Leanne Fray, The University of Newcastle, Australia

Project aims
This project, Choosing University, sought to identify factors associated with schools and schooling that impact on students’ aspirations to attend university. The schools identified for the study were NSW government secondary schools with low levels of socioeconomic advantage (average ICSEA 911). Students targeted for the study were primarily from low socioeconomic status backgrounds. Taking account of SES, Aboriginality, location, and sex, the Choosing University project examined:

  • Patterns identifiable in the complex relationships between student background and their aspirations for university; and
  • The extent to which and ways in which schools support students’ aspirations for university.

The aim was to better understand barriers and enabling conditions over which schools have some control in order to provide insight into possible ways of improving the higher education participation and success of low SES and other marginalised students. Data used in this study are drawn from 15 NSW government schools and take the form of:

(1) surveys of secondary school students;

(2) interviews with students from these schools identified as ‘university aspirants’, ‘non-university aspirants’, or ‘undecided’;

(3) interviews with some of their parents, teachers, principals, and school-based careers advisers; and

(4) interviews with current university students who had attended the same schools for their secondary studies.

Major findings of this project were:

On choosing university

1. From our sample of 832 students in 15 disadvantaged secondary schools, a substantial proportion, just over 40%, of the participating students intend to go to university although only 32% plan to go in the year immediately after school.

2. A further 21% of participating students were unsure of their educational intentions, while the remainder planned to complete their formal education at school or TAFE.

3. When examining their independent effect on intention to go to university, sex, SES, and prior achievement were all significantly related:

a. A greater relative proportion of the female students in our sample indicated an intention to attend university than did male students.

b. A greater relative proportion of high SES students in our sample indicated an intention to attend university than did low SES students.

c. A greater relative proportion of students with high prior achievement indicated an intention to attend university than did students with low prior achievement.

4. When considered concurrently in relation to the impact on the intention to go to university, through regression analysis, sex and prior achievement were significant:

a. Female students in this sample were 1.56 times more likely to indicate an intention to go to university than male students.

b. Students in the top two prior achievement quartiles were more than three times as likely to indicate an intention to go to university than students in the lower two quartiles.

5. While the schools in this project were all below the national median level of social and economic advantage, participating students were from all four SES quartiles, although not in equal proportions. Although an independent effect was found for SES and nearly 70% of participating students perceived there to be financial barriers to attending university, SES was not significant when considered through the regression analysis, indicating the intersection of SES with other factors. Our results highlight the importance of: designing initiatives to support the participation and success of students from low SES backgrounds without ‘essentialising’ SES (that is, treating the category ‘low SES’ as homogeneous); and, taking account of sex and prior achievement and how these variables intersect to shape students’ desires for higher education or otherwise.

6. The intention to go to university was related to students’ perceptions of travel as a potential barrier, with university aspirants more likely to identify such barriers, possibly signalling their firmer intent to pursue a higher education pathway.

7. University aspirants were more likely to seek information about career and study options from a broad range of sources than non-university aspirants. They were more likely to speak to family and friends, use the internet, attend careers expos, and receive information from educational institutions.

8. In all analyses, Aboriginality and school location (metropolitan/provincial) were not found to be related to educational intention, despite the greater perception of travel barriers among students in provincial schools.

Continue reading: Choosing University: The Impact of Schools and Schooling (1Mb)

Gore, J., Holmes, K., Smith, M., Lyell, A., Ellis, H. & Fray, L. (2015). Choosing University: The Impact of Schools and Schooling. Report submitted to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Australia. Teachers & Teaching Research Program, The University of Newcastle, Australia.
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