HE Research Snippet 2 - How Can Universities Reduce Dissatisfaction & Improve Retention Among 1st Year Students?


The 2012/13 batch of fresh-faced first year students are now just over a month into university life. Many will already be reflecting on how their early university

Higher Education Research Team at YouthSight
Higher Education Research Team at YouthSight

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The 2012/13 batch of fresh-faced first year students are now just over a month into university life. Many will already be reflecting on how their early university experience compares to the expectations they had prior to attending the institution.

With students now looking for even more from their institution in the era of £9,000 fees, the issue of ‘keeping students happy’ has never been more pertinent for universities (especially given the cost of students dropping out will typically be around £20k-30k). With this in mind, we wanted to use our latest Research Snippet to assess the extent to which students feel their early university experience has matched their expectations, and what universities can do to mitigate disappointment.

Our annual Higher Expectations survey contains several questions relating to initial student satisfaction. We start the fieldwork for the 2012/13 round in just over a week, but in this Snippet we will look at data from the past five years (almost 60,000 interviews with new first year students).

 

Which student groups are most likely to be disappointed?

In general, most students’ experience exceeds or at least matches expectations. Only a small proportion are disappointed, with just over one in eight not having expectations met (14%). However, this varies considerably between individual institutions, ranging from only 5% at one institution to as high as 33% at another.

Levels of disappointment tend to be higher amongst certain student groups. For instance, students from lower socio-economic groups and with fewer UCAS points are more likely to be disappointed in their early university experience. Clearing students – who, admittedly, are more likely to come from lower socio-economic groups and have fewer UCAS points - are significantly more likely than students in general to have had an experience which didn’t meet their expectations (as shown below).

University experience compared to expectations
  All students % Clearing students %
Doesn't meet expectations 14 18
Exceeds expectations 38 35
Figure 1: Sat2 – ‘Does your university experience so far match the expectations you had before you came here’ 2007 to 2011. Base: Higher Expectations; All students (59,686); All Clearing students(3,977).
Statistically significant differences: An orange background indicates that this figure is significantly higher

 

Do any early interventions alleviate disappointment?

Open days have some role to play in forming expectations amongst prospective students. As shown in Figure 2, students who don’t attend an open day at their current institution are significantly more likely to have had an experience which didn’t meet expectations. And perhaps of particular note to universities who attract large numbers of Clearing students, open days are particularly effective in reducing disappointment amongst those students who go through the Clearing process.

University experience compared to expectations
  Didn't attend
open day
%
Did attend
open day
%
Clearing students whose expectations haven't met 20 15
All students whose expectations haven't been met 16 13
Figure 2: Sat2 – ‘Does your university experience so far match the expectations you had before you came here’ 2007 to 2011. Base: Higher Expectations; All students who didn’t attend the open day (16,087), All students who did attend the open day (42,009); All Clearing students who didn’t attend the open day (1,666), All Clearing students who did attend the open day (2,136).
Statistically significant differences: An orange background indicates that this figure is significantly higher
 

Induction activities also play a part in ensuring expectations are met or exceeded amongst new students. Figure 3 demonstrates that the more induction activities participated in, the less likely expectations are to have not been met. Similarly, induction activities have a particularly positive impact amongst students who have gone through Clearing.

 

Conclusions

Most students are positive about their early university experience. However, there remains a significant body of the student population (and certain student groups in particular) who feel their university experience hasn’t met their expectations. These students will become more important as institutions focus more on retention. Students who are most engaged with their institution, through attending open days and undertaking induction activities, are least likely to feel disappointed in their early university experience.

Of course, open day attendance and induction participation is ultimately up to the individual student, but ensuring these measures are fun, widely available and well publicised should help reduce student disappointment. You can find out how your university measures up to it's competitors by looking at our Higher Expectations data which tracks 100s of key indicators of choice among undergraduate students to help you streamline your recruitment and retention. Or in ourHE Marcomms data, which tracks how well your open day, prospectus and other communications serve their purpose, from the eyes of your current students, to help you make the most of your events and marketing materials.

Beat your rivals, find out where you underperform and why.