It is most important to highlight and remember, that improving the higher educational experience not only fulfils the institutionally self-serving function of promoting fiscal solvency, but it serves the student-centred purpose of promoting learning and development. Should a student miss out on or leave their initial choice of higher educational institution, they not only leave the course the study, but they leave without the broad education that HE gives them. Success in higher education brings with it a range of benefits: not only the prospect of rewarding employment, but the enhancement of cultural and social capital, a commensurate standard of living and better health than others in the population enjoy!
When students encounter difficulties with their study, it is often assumed that this is because they have a problem with their academic skills. Whilst this may be partly truth, there are generally other issues involved, as the student may not yet been exposed to sufficient concrete experience of higher education (HE) in order to develop a schema of what it is to be a student at this level. The student may not have sufficient experience of the required conventions, and this is especially true of mature students who return to education from work or through access courses, and of those students who are first generation higher education attendees.
The first weeks of the academic year can be very stressful and unsettling for students in any institution: homesickness, loneliness, acclimatisation to a new environment, performance anxiety and self-doubt mean that this is a difficult time, and a period of student loss. A positive and appropriate induction experience can help to orientate students, build up their sense of belonging and prevent some difficulties from developing later in the year. As such, student orientation and induction can serve as the main driving-force in an institution’s retention policy (Astin, 1975; Tinto, 1975; Tinto, 1993). Indeed, most researchers in student retention are in broad agreement with Astin that student involvement in the total academic environment is the single greatest factor in their persistence (Astin, 1975). Induction and orientation to higher education therefore is a key event for students.
While many higher education administrators may not consider student retention a priority, the subject for academic research has a long history and a unifying theme for many is that students’ involvement in the social environment as well as the academic environment is critical to their success in higher education. For example, it was found that the combined influences of the college environment as perceived by the student and the effort expended by the student, leads to student development (Pace, 1979). Similarly, Tinto remarks that a student’s sense of academic and social belonging impacts on retention and graduation (Tinto, 1993). This sense of belonging is increased or decreased through interactions with the academic and social environments of the HEI, introduced during student orientation, and Tintos’ findings have been extended to include student expectations (Braxton, 1995). Research has shown that institutional characteristics and culture have both indirect and direct effects on the student’s tendency to become involved in academic and non-academic activities (Braxton, 1995). The HEI also exerts an impact on determining the amount of student involvement and thus the gains and retention (Clagget, 1992), and there are many solid reviews of the issues and theories involved in student retention to support this (Ewell, 1987; Pascarella, 1991; Middaugh, 1992; Davis, 1993; Ewell, 1993; Ewell, 1995).
The literature reviewed points to the complex nature of the retention/attrition processes, the effect of institutional characteristics, and the difficulties of generalizing or expanding a body of knowledge from theoretically-based research results. Tinto’s revised model (Tinto, 1993) however reinforces the dynamic nature of academic and social experiences, external communities, and effective integration of the student within the institutional culture over time. Polansky cited research signifying that students persist towards graduation in spite of poor academic achievement and, conversely withdraw despite academic success (Polansky, 1993). Both circumstances suggest underlying motivational factors and perhaps the need to better understand students enrolled in given institutions. Changing long-held views within an organization concerning the importance, or lack of importance, that should be placed on the relationship between student retention and induction as a strategic issue begins with individual stakeholders. Over time, efforts to impact stakeholder perspectives result in changes in organizational culture and in new approaches for dealing with strategic issues.