Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development > Vol. 2, No. 3 (2005)

Re-conceptualising attrition and retention: integrating theoretical. research and student perspectives

Jill Lawrence


This paper applies two models that stem from critical discourse theory and constructivism to re-conceptualise university transition and retention. The first model, The Framework for Student Engagement, visualises the university as a culture encompassing a multiplicity of subcultures, each with its own discourse or literacy. Students’ transition to the new university culture can then be seen as the processes of becoming familiar with and engaging these literacies and discourses, and retention as the processes of mastering and demonstrating them. The Framework exemplifies the student-institution relationship by connecting students’ engagement and mastery of mainstream institutional literacies/ discourses with institutional retention. It also reveals the role of first year university teachers in students’ attrition/retention. The second model, the Model for Student Success Practices at University, presents three practical, dynamic strategies that can assist students to make their transition to and persevere at university (and thus enhance university retention rates). First year experience, higher education and cross-cultural research literatures link attrition to students’ inability to integrate these practices into their university ‘modus operandi’. The three practices include reflective practice, socio-cultural practice and critical practice. Together, the Framework and the Model re-conceptualise the first year experience, positively influencing students’ transition to and retention in the university culture.

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