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You are reading: Exploring the Retention and Success of Students with Disability

Sue Kilpatrick, Susan Johns, Robin Barnes, Darlene McLennan, Sarah Fischer and Kerri Magnussen

University of Tasmania

Report Summary

This report explored the relationship between supports and university adjustment for students with disability, their retention and success. It did this by asking three research questions:

  • How do universities compare in retention and success of students with various disability types?
  • How does student retention and success compare in terms of policy and practice approaches to the provision of adjustments and supports with various disability types?
  • What approaches should universities take in the provision of adjustments and supports for students with various disability types?

Institutional data from 2007 to 2013 from the Higher Education Student Data Collection by disability types and need for services was analysed. Providers were then categorised according to the performance of their students. Some institutions participated in interviews on practice and policy; and additional data was collected from providers’ websites.

Findings from national data revealed that:

  • There were no significant changes in the distribution of disability types across the years.
  • Smaller universities with 1000 to 3000 students have a larger proportion of commencing and enrolled students than large universities with more than 30,000 students;
  • Students with hearing disability were consistently the smallest group and students with medical disability were consistently the largest group of commencing students with disability;
  • Compared to the total student population, students with disability have slightly lower success and retention rates.
  • Within the disability cohort, students with learning, medical and ‘other’ performed consistently less well; students with learning disability were retained at a higher rate; and students with ‘other’ disability were consistently retained at a lower rate.
  • There were no consistent significant differences in student enrolment, retention or success between university groupings.

Findings from website and audit interviews included:

  • Most institutions described socially inclusive policies and practices, but few institutions involved students with disability in policy development.
  • Service units for students with disability were usually located within a broader well-being structure and responsibility for disability was shared, indicating the move to an inclusion model.
  • Recruitment mechanisms that involving linkages with schools and disability networks can assist in the transition of students with disability.
  • The widespread implementation of Learning Access Plans suggests increasing importance being placed on formal procedures for identifying and meeting student needs.
  • More services for students with mental health and autism is needed.
  • Inconsistent categorisation of students with mental health disability makes targeting services and tracking institutional performance challenging.
  • More training for academic and non-academic staff is required.

Recommendations included:

  • A nationally consistent approach to categorizing students with disability, including that students with mental health be identified in a single category.
  • Numerous adjustments to guiding principles for good practice when developing and implementing strategies and plans designed to support the enrolment, retention and success of students with disability (see report for full details).


Exploring the Retention and Success of Students with Disability

Kilpatrick, S., Johns, S., Barnes, R., McLennan, D., Fischer, S. & Magnussen, K. (2016). Exploring the Retention and Success of Students with Disability. Report submitted to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University: Perth.

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