Longitudinal study of drop-out and continuing students who attended the Pre-University Summer School at the University of Glasgow
This paper discusses the results of a longitudinal qualitative study of the problems encountered by and the similarities and differences between students who drop-out and those who continue at university. The study, which took place over a period of two and a half years, was undertaken with a group of 57 students who attended the Pre-University Summer School. This is a course that provides preparation and widens access for non-traditional students from areas of disadvantage, also termed 'Areas of Priority Treatment' or 'Areas of Social Priority'. The study was undertaken in order to attempt to understand why some students of this type succeed whilst others fail at university and, at the same time, to establish where the similarities and differences between dropout and continuing students lie. The study was set in the context of the main theories of student drop-out. The three approaches, which were summarized, are given as the 'theoretical' or 'philosophical' approach, the 'descriptive' approach and the 'prescriptive' approach. It was concluded that the most appropriate approach towards understanding drop-out behaviour is a synthesis of these three methods. The initial results of the study indicated that successful students could not have been predicted from the commencement of the study based on background information such as previous qualification, family tradition of higher education or initial aspirations. It was then determined that the problems encountered by the students, both dropout and continuing, could be categorized into a number of areas and that these problem areas were in some cases deemed to be critical to progress whilst in others not. By categorizing the students' problems into these areas it was found that the main differences between the drop-outs and the continuing students lay in attitudes and motivation. Drop-out students were less motivated, less suited to academic work and had poorer attitudes. The most important finding was that successful students were highly motivated towards study whereas none of the drop-outs were. It was concluded that drop-out continuing behaviour is closely related to motivation and integration into the institution as well as commitment to the goal of graduation.
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