[ Proceedings ]
[ Abstracts ]
[ ASET-HERDSA 2000 Main ]
The first cohort at a new campus: Who are they? What do they bring? Where are they going? Why did they come?
The Teaching and Development Institute, University of Queensland
Graduate School of Education, University of Queensland
In this paper we report on the findings of a survey of first year students at the new UQ campus at Ipswich, west of Brisbane. We asked students about their reasons for enrolling in their respective degree programs, their reasons for studying at university, their information technology resources and literacy, their study and paid work commitments, domestic living arrangements and educational qualifications, their learning preferences and their intentions after completion of the degree. Ipswich campus is designed to be, and is promoted as, an innovative, learner-centred and technology-rich learning environment. We focussed on two themes; (1) the match between the pedagogical assumptions underpinning the curricula at the new campus and students' learning preferences, their information technology resources and literacy and their reasons for choosing their respective courses; and (2) respondents' reasons for choosing to do university studies, and their reasons for choosing the particular course in which they were enrolled.
Examining literature from the United States, Paulsen (Paulsen, 1990a, 1990b) classifies research concerning college choice behaviour according to the theoretical models employed by researchers. First, psychologists emphasise the psychological environment, or climate of an institution, its impact on students and 'student-institution fit'(Paulsen, 1990a, 1990b). Second, sociologists view college choice development in terms of a status attainment process. Third, economists view college attendance decisions as a form of investment-like decision making behaviour.
Using the first of these frameworks, Weiler (1994) found that the fit between a student's preferences and an institution's characteristics has the most substantial impact on the decision to apply. Students who live close to a university were found to be significantly more likely to apply in the event that they wished to live close to the school. Course entrance scores are also significant predictors of a student's predisposition to apply to college or university.
Another study which investigated the processes by which high school students choose a university or college (Galotti & Mark, 1994:603) found that students structure the decision in similar ways, considering an average of about eight to eleven criteria and four or five schools at any given time. However, students seek out, and are receptive to, different types of information at various points in the decision making process. Furthermore, higher-ability students appeared to structure the decision in more complex ways than lower achieving students.
St. John, Paulsen and Starkey (1996:175) argue that an artificial barrier has developed between theory and research on college-choice processes, and theory and research on student persistence choices. According to these authors, while the first line of inquiry is applied to marketing and recruitment practices, the latter is used to inform retention practices. Consistent with other research (Harker, Slade, & Ivory, 1999), these authors identify three stages in the process of college-choice; (1) aspiration formation - students develop the predisposition or intention to continue their education beyond the secondary level; (2) search and application -acquisition of information concerning college attributes and subsequent application; and (3) selection and attendance (St. John et al., 1996:178). The findings reported from this study suggest that the reasons why students chose colleges had both a direct and indirect influence on their persistence decisions and the financial reasons for choosing a college interacted with other aspects of the college experience. In addition, college costs had a substantial direct influence on persistence, in particular, living costs. Some high-achieving undergraduates dropped out, and evidence suggests that costs influenced this decision (St. John et al., 1996:210).
In their investigation of college access and choice among racial and ethnic groups, Hurtado, Inkelas, Briggs and Rhee (1997) found that there were vast differences in student preparation for college among various racial/ethnic groups. For example, student ability was the main predictor of being strategic about submitting college applications among Asian Americans. In contrast, parental income and education continue to play a direct role in the development of a 'choice set' for students from other racial backgrounds.
Choy and Ottinger (1998) found that the importance of reputation, location, price and influence of different universities varied across institution type. Students attending public and private not-for-profit 4-year institutions were more likely to cite reputation as the most important reason for choosing their institution. However, students at public 4-year institutions were more likely than students at private, not-for-profit 4-year institutions to identify location or price as the most important reason for their choice. Students at public 2-year institutions reported location as the most important reason for their choice of institution.
The Australian context
Why do students choose to attend university?
According to a recent study conducted in Australia (ANOP Research Service Pty. Ltd., 1994:26-27), most students choose to attend university for employment-related reasons (78%), with the main secondary reason for choosing to attend university to become generally better educated and qualified (25%). In addition, year 10-12 students who are more likely to have aspirations to attend university include:
Somewhat similar findings were reported in an earlier study (Elsworth, Day, Hurworth, & Andrews, 1981) of the university choice decision making of final year school students in Victoria. Males, metropolitan dwellers, students from non-Catholic independent schools, science students and those from migrant and higher socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to accept a place at university if offered. In addition, HSC score, anticipated financial costs, and perceptions of career benefits were factors all strongly associated with the decision outcome.
- Those born in non-English speaking countries or whose parents have a non-English speaking background.
- Those with university educated parents.
- Those who are well informed about university.
- Those who would consider repeating Year 12 if they do not realise their plans.
- Private school students.
- Those with definite further education plans.
- Older students (in year 12 or aged 17 and over).
- Those living in capital cities.
- Female students.
- Those living in Victoria.
Le Claire (1988) identified seven stages through which high school students proceed in deciding to undertake tertiary education. While students in year 7-9 focus on the first three (which concern course and career preference), year 10-12 students refine their search for courses and universities by evaluating and eliminating potential alternative courses of study. A survey of 2000 final-year secondary students in Western Australia (Stanley & Reynolds, 1994) found that the majority had a strong preference for attending university rather than vocational training (TAFE). Consistent with Le Claire's (1988) ideas, university choice was primarily influenced by the course offered, with personal academic achievement, and quality considerations, and parent opinion also having the greatest influence. Quality of programs was also found to be a primary influence in university choice in a study investigating the factors which first-year students at the University of South Australia at Whyalla used in choosing a university (Martin, 1994a, 1994b). Distance from home and library resources were also found to be of primary importance.
A number of large studies examining different aspects of the transition into higher education have been conducted in Australia. One such study is Entering higher education in the 1980s (Williams, Long, Carpenter, & Hayden, 1993:iii). This study focused on the transition of Australian students from Year 12 to tertiary study, and found that the end-on transition rates of Year 12 graduates changed little across the decade. The opening up of the higher education during the 1980s did not have much of an effect on the participation rates of high achieving students. In fact, higher education appeared to be unattractive to a significant proportion of the group most suited to it in terms of talent. The study also found that a greater proportion of males enter higher education, and higher status families promote higher levels of achievement. In addition, year 12 graduates from the most wealthy 25% of families entered higher education at rates some 20 percentage points above those of students from 'poor' families. Children of immigrants tend to participate at higher rates than do those of the Australian-born majority, but living in a rural area is a disadvantage for high school graduates in terms of going on to higher education. There was also a substantial disparity in higher education transition rates across the three school sectors. Access to higher education seemed to depend mainly on personal achievement and personal preference, although only one in every two of the highest achieving students appear to choose to enter higher education.
Many of these findings are echoed in a 1994 study investigating young people's attitudes to post-compulsory education and training (ANOP Research Service Pty. Ltd., 1994:18-19). This study found that there was a strong commitment among young people to complete year 12 and continue their education and training on completion of high school. Also, although the majority of students have 'unrealistically high' aspirations - most aspire to higher education and professional occupations - there has been increased interest in TAFE as an alternative to higher education.
University applications in Australia
Analysis of data from a large-scale study which investigated individual demand for tertiary education courses in Australia (Harvey-Beavis & Elsworth, 1998) revealed that applications in the higher education sector were clustered into the following areas.
Results from this study showed that demand for tertiary education courses appears to be driven by interests. Evidence was not found to support the theory that 'pursuit of status' or the use of a 'cost benefit' strategy were important factors governing student choice. Moreover, clusters of courses may be viewed as 'fields of study' which are likely to be 'stable over time', and the clustering of courses identified by the study reflects the similarities students observe in courses.
- Visual arts and music courses.
- Humanities and social science and communication arts (media, performing arts, etc) courses.
- Applied social science, child care and teaching, health studies, community service and sport and recreation courses;
- Business, commerce, law, hospitality, business languages and library and information studies courses; and
- Building and design, engineering and computing and professional and applied science courses.
How and why do students choose a particular university?
A recent report (James, Baldwin, & McInnis, 1999) investigating how and why students choose a particular university notes two issues of particular pertinence in the Australian setting. First, the majority of prospective university students seem to be motivated principally by field of study interests when they make their initial tertiary applications. Second, people's decisions are mediated and constrained by competitive entry to courses based on academic results.
Overall findings from the study conducted by James et al. (1999) include the following:
In relation to the past point, the authors note that 'the focus on immediate needs versus the value of the university experience itself may be a fundamental contrast between those who have cultural capital and those who do not' (James et al., 1999:43). However, it is also suggested that many factors, which are prominent in university advertising, that might be expected to be influential, do not figure highly in applicant thinking. These include the opportunities for flexible study, the use of information technology in teaching, and the quality of teaching overall.
- Field of study preferences are clearly the dominant factor in prospective students' decision making, and applicants' field of study preferences are associated with striking differences in the factors they consider important in their choice of a course and university;
- Applicants focus strongly on broadly conceived course and institutional reputations when making their selections, and course entry scores (and by implication, university scores), serve as a proxy for quality in prospective students' eyes;
- With the exception of ease of access from home, institutional characteristics beyond the specific qualities of particular courses are not strong influences, and applicants report generally low levels of knowledge of specific characteristics of courses and universities.
- Short-term practical issues - that is, opportunities for flexible study options, the use of information technology, the availability of rental housing near the campus, and ease of access from home - appear to be of more importance than 'long-term status and prestige' for applicants from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
Why do students choose to come to new campuses and universities?
Little research has investigated the reasons why students choose to attend a new university campus. Harker, Slade and Ivory (1999) specifically addressed the issue of differences between how mature age entrants and school leavers undertook the decision to attend a new university ( in this case, the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. These researchers found that school leavers were more likely to select a university close to home than mature age students. Mature age students tended to select a university as their one and only choice, whereas school leavers were more likely to submit a number of preferences. For mature age students, the most important reasons for choosing a new university were related to established life patterns ( that is that it enabled them to continue live at home (27%), to continue family responsibilities (25%), and to continue to work (14%). Being able to continue to live at home (41%) overwhelmingly swayed school leavers, with the ability to start the course there and transfer elsewhere if necessary (20%) as a secondary reason (Harker et al., 1999).
While a substantial amount of research has been undertaken in the area of university and college choice, there is relatively little research focussing on the reasons for students' choice of a new university campus. As such, it would appear that research addressing this topic would be beneficial in gaining further understanding of student's university study decision-making.
The new Ipswich Campus
When the new Ipswich campus of the University of Queensland first opened its doors in February 1999, it was advertised as, "a state-of-the-art centre offering innovative courses and course delivery methods using the very latest technology". Later on, billboards appeared around Ipswich, announcing the campus would provide, "New Courses for the New Millennium". The message which was being sent to prospective students was that the courses at this campus were designed to meet their future employment needs. Part of this message was that future-oriented information technologies would play a central role in students' learning. Another message conveyed via newspaper advertisements and other promotional material was that courses at this campus would be designed around the needs of the students by giving them, "choices in how and when they study, pacing their studies to suit their lifestyles without compromising a world-class education" in particular to make it more attractive to mature-age students. Planning documents within the university expressed the hope that a significant number of would be drawn from, "the western corridor connecting Brisbane and Ipswich, Ipswich itself, and its rural surrounds".
The same planning documents portrayed the Ipswich Campus as, "an engine for change and innovation within the University...[acting]...as a test bed for new ideas and processes within teaching and learning, university administration, and community partnerships". The Ipswich Campus is one of a number of new campuses being built in Australia designed to foster innovation in higher educational methods and which conform to a government-endorsed vision of how higher education should be organised in the future (West, 1998). The findings of this study therefore may have implications beyond the boundaries of the University of Queensland.
Programs at the Ipswich campus
The degree streams available at the Ipswich campus may be divided into two categories: new courses (including those "new courses for the new millenium") which are designed to prepare students for the jobs of the future; and traditional courses. The degree streams are:
|New Courses:||BCS||Bachelor of Contemporary Studies|
|BeCom||Bachelor of Electronic Commerce|
|BInfEnv||Bachelor of Information Environments|
|BBusComm||Bachelor of Business Communications|
|Traditional Courses:||BBus||Bachelor of Business|
|BEd||Bachelor of Education (Graduate Entry)|
|BSocSci||Bachelor of Social Science|
Evaluation at the Ipswich Campus
If the Ipswich Campus is to be an effective test-bed for future Australian universities, then its operation, especially its operation during the period while it is establishing its place in higher education, needs to be subjected to a comprehensive evaluation. This paper describes the results of a survey of first-year students which is part of a suite of evaluation projects being conducted at the Ipswich campus. These projects range from a general data gathering exercise, on which this paper is based, to a number of more focused projects which examine various aspects of the operation of the flexible learning model employed at the new campus.
The data reported here were collected by means of a survey questionnaire and analysis of student records (student records and survey responses could not be linked). The questionnaire was posted out to all of the 359 students identified from the student records enrolled at the Ipswich campus as at 31 March 1999. One hundred and forty-eight completed questionnaires were returned, a response rate of 41%.
The survey questionnaire was designed to collect general information such as age, gender, degree stream, highest educational qualification, present employment, present living situation, languages spoken besides English and current fees paid (HECs or Full fee). Other questions related to learning preferences, learning locations and the hours spent studying in different locations as well as a number of questions to determine their access to, and experience in the use of, computers and the internet.
The key questions that we focus on in this paper relate to a variety of factors that would be likely to have an impact on students' opportunities for successfully completing their studies. In particular we focus on the following factors:
- Information technology resources;
- Information technology literacy;
- Study and paid work commitments;
- Domestic living arrangements;
- Educational qualifications;
- Intentions after completion of the degree; and,
- Learning preferences.
Who are the students at the Ipswich Campus?
The student records were used initially to produce a list of students for the original mail-out and a check list to mark off the returned questionnaires so a follow-up reminder could be sent to those students who had not responded by a certain date. Data from these records (the official semester 1 records, as sent to DETYA) were used to compile a profile of the total student body including students' residential locations. They were also used to determine the representativeness of the group that responded to the survey. The survey data were used to described students intentions and their experience and facility with computers.
The respondent group and the total population were compared with respect to degree chosen, age and gender. A breakdown of the responses by degree stream, compared with actual enrolments, is shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Comparison of Response by Degree Stream (respondents versus population)
Respondents No (N=146)
|Ipswich Population %
Population No (N=359)
|* There was some confusion among BEd students as to whether they were enrolled at the Ipswich or the St Lucia campus (in 1999 many of the classes for the Ipswich BEd were conducted at St Lucia). This may explain the relatively low response rate for this group.|
A breakdown of the responses by gender, compared with actual enrolments, shows that the respondent group and the total population are similar (Table 2). Table 2 also shows that the proportions of each gender category at UQ Ipswich do not differ markedly from those of students attending and commencing at universities nationally (DETYA, 2000:15).
Table 2: Enrolments by Gender (respondents versus population)
|Australian Pop'n* (1999)||45||55|
|Australian Pop'n Commencing* (1999)||44||56|
|Total UQ Pop'n % (N=359)||41||59|
|Respondents % (N=146)||35||65|
|* (Source DETYA, 2000:15).|
A breakdown of the responses by age, compared with actual enrolments, is shown in Table 3. These data in the above tables showed a good fit between the respondents and the total population.
Table 3: Comparison of total population and respondent group in terms of age.
Group % (N=148)
Population % (N=359)
|18 or less||35||32|
The data in Table 4 show that for all age categories other than the 18 or younger group there is a good fit between sample respondents and the total population
Table 4: Comparison of total population and respondent group in terms of age.
|Age ranges used by authors||Respondent group % (N=148)||DETYA age ranges||Total Australian student population % (N=686267)|
|18 or less||35||18 or less||16|
|Over 50||1||50 and over*||3|
|* These categories differ slightly from those used in this report.|
(Source DETYA, 2000:54)
Among survey respondents, whether students were enrolled in their first choice degree varied widely according to age. Respondents in the under 19 age group were likely to be enrolled in a degree that was not their first choice; in contrast, the respondents aged 19 and over were, on average, likely to be enrolled in a course that was their first choice (Table 5).
Table 5: First Choice by Age
|Age Group||Whether got first choice|
|% Yes||% No|
|19 or over (N=96)||79||21|
These results are not inconsistent with the findings of Harker, Slade and Ivory (1999) However, neither are they directly supportive of those findings, since we did not ask our respondents whether they had made more than one choice in applying for admission. Our older respondents were enrolled in their first choice degree, but whether this degree was the only choice on their applications is not known.
Table 6: Importance of Location By Age
|Not at all important /|
Table 6 shows that the importance of the location of the campus increases with the age of the respondents, but that it is important for just over half of the respondents under 22 years of age.
What do the students bring?
We wanted to look at a variety of resources and constraints students brought with them that might support or hinder their study activities. The things we considered included; IT Resources (their access to a home computer); IT Literacy (their expertise in various software applications); their study and work patterns and commitments; their living situations; their educational qualifications; and, their learning preferences. We will examine the data on each of these in turn.
IT Resources -Access to a home computer
Of the 148 respondents, 130 said they did have a computer at home (88%). Of this 130, 115 answered the question on the age of their computer (see Table 7).
Table 7: Age of computer (column percentages)
|Age of computer in whole years||% of the respondents with a computer at home who answered this question (N=115)|
|1 to < 2||31|
|2 to < 3||24|
|3 and over||36|
A substantial proportion of these computers are aged at least three years. Given the current rate of change in technology, these machines might be considered "old" because they will have been superseded by several generations of new models.
Given the age of the computers it is of some interest to find out how well they are equipped (see Table 8).
Table 8: Ancillary equipment with students' computers (Row percentages)
|Ancillary Equipment or Capacity||% of respondents' computers having this feature or capacity (N=130)|
|Access to internet||84|
Students with computers may not all enjoy an up-to-date or fast machine, but by and large their machines are equipped with the peripherals needed for computer-based learning from home.
Of the 17 students who said they did not have a computer at home, 15 said they were prepared to do most of their computing work at the Ipswich campus.
IT Literacy -Expertise in various software applications
Given the assumption underlying the advent of the new Ipswich campus (that substantial use be made of contemporary information technologies in students' learning activities), it is important to ascertain what levels of expertise in computer use the students bring to their studies. We asked respondents to indicate their level of confidence in using a variety of common software applications (see Table 9).
Table 9: Levels of confidence in various software applications (row percentages)
|Very confident||Less than very confident||Never used|
When software applications are looked at in terms of students' user confidence, they fall clearly into two groups: those in the use of which students are very confident and those in the use of which they are less than very confident. By and large, students are very confident in word processing, emailing and web browsing applications. A substantial majority of students are less than very confident in the use of the other applications listed, although most have at least used them. Thus, this is a group of students who appear to be quite familiar with computers, albeit very confident in the use of only a limited range of software applications.
Interestingly, 65% of these students claimed to have used the internet before coming to university; the median number of hours per week of internet use was 4 hours. The uses to which students put their internet access include; (1) use for work or business, (2) email or IRC etc or contact (family, friends), (3) study, (4) research, (5) look for jobs, (6) learn web-type things, (7) play games, (8) surfing, and (9) entertainment. It is striking that most of these uses were not entertainment oriented or frivolous.
Study and work patterns and commitments
The median amount of time respondents expected to be spending each week at the campus was 12.5 hours (range 0-80 hours). Ninety-five percent expect to spend fewer than 30 hours per week studying at the campus. The median amount of time respondents expected to spend in study outside scheduled class sessions was 15 hours.
We asked about the kind of work respondents were doing (Table 10) and the number of hours they were spending in paid work.
Table 10: Respondents' work patterns (column percentages)
|Class of paid work||% of respondents in paid work|
The median number of hours of paid work, on average per week, reported by these respondents is 17 hours. Seventy-five percent of the respondents report working, on average, 23 hours or less per week. The median amount of time spent on campus by those in paid work (N=91) is 12 hours and by those with no paid work (N=52) is 13 hours. Paid work therefore appears to be an additional burden to study commitments rather than a substitute for them.
As would be expected, there is a negative correlation between hours of paid work and amount of time intended to be spent at the campus (r = -.43, p < .01).
We added together the variables for time spent at the campus and hours in paid work. We called the new variable "total committed hours per week". For students doing some paid work, we found that the median for this variable was 33 hours.
As shown in Table 11 below, half the respondents live with their parents, a quarter with their own families and a sixth in shared housing. This is consistent with the age distribution data reported in Table 3 above
Table 11: Respondents' Living Situation
|Living situation||% of respondents in this situation|
|With own family||23|
|No answer or other||7|
Highest educational qualifications
Table 12 below shows respondents' highest educational qualification at the time of their enrolment at the Ipswich campus. Again, consistent with the age distribution in Table 3, whilst the majority of the respondents have an end of high school certificate, a substantial minority come with higher qualifications than high school certificates or their equivalents.
Table 12: Respondents' highest educational qualification at entry
|Qualification||% of respondents (N=148)|
|Schooling - no certificate||3|
|End of high school certificate||62|
|TAFE diploma or certificate||14|
|Bachelor degree (with or without honours)||14|
We were interested in discovering respondents' preferences for, and beliefs about, the efficacy of different learning methods, contexts, or environments. We classified learning contexts into three classes (formal "taught" classes; small working groups; using computers) and asked respondents to tell us how well they felt they learned in each kind of learning context. As can be seen in Table 12, respondents generally feel they learn well from each of these three methods.
Table 13: How well do you feel you learn from each of the following methods? (row percentages)
|Method||% Not well||% Well|
|Formal "taught" classes||20||78|
|Small working groups||15||83|
We also wanted to know how respondents might rank different learning contexts, in terms of their relative effectiveness for their learning. Respondents were asked in which way they felt they learned best. As a group these respondents believe that their best learning is achieved by studying in an informal group.
Table 14: In what way do you feel you learn best? (column percentages)
|Studying with in an informal group||44%|
|Working in formal classes||22%|
Where are they going? Intentions after completing degree
We asked respondents to indicate their intentions after completing their degrees. In analysing the responses to this question, six broad themes emerged:
Most of those who specified a future field of work came from the BEd (Graduate Entry), and many students indicated more than one of these categories in their responses. Although many students knew clearly what they would do after graduating, it appears that there was a substantial subgroup who were uncertain or undecided. This group could be subdivided into two sub-groups: those who planned to work but who had no specific work direction in mind and those who were even less certain about their future plans.
- Work (specified field): "Get into air hosting"; "Search for a teaching position in the Ipswich area"; "Travel agent"; "Get employment in my area of study".
- Travel: "Sail around the world and party!"; "Go overseas again-probably America"; "Move overseas and work for a couple of years and then continue to see the world (starting in the U.K.)".
- Further study: "Possibly further study to broaden my horizons"; "Go on to do a psychology degree - specialising in child psychology"; "Learn a foreign language"; "Post-graduate studies".
- Do not intend to complete: "I want to get into either second year in Psychological Science or second year Arts majoring in Psychology"; "I hope, after finishing my 1st year in this course to transfer to St. Lucia & study a BA/Bachelor of Education next year".
- Work (unspecified): "Look for a job"; "Get a good, well paid job"; "Look for employment where I can put my knowledge and skills to good use"; "Get a job that earns a lot so I can pay back HECS".
- Uncertain or do not know: "Either further my studies/degree or look for work or perhaps travel"; "I am currently unsure; I have been seeing a career counsellor"; "I am not too certain what I want to do with this degree, but I'm sure I'll find out along the way"; "I'm not entirely sure at this point".
Why did they come?
In one submission in the West Report (1998) it was stated that "It is important that each institution develop its own distinctive mission and publicise it so that student demands can be appropriately matched to institutional profiles" (West, 1998:49). This is exactly what has been done in the case of the Ipswich Campus. Did the students who chose the Ipswich campus do so because of perceptions of some special characteristics of the campus (e.g. the use of technology based flexible learning and the availability of new courses which would prepare them for the jobs of the future) that were advertised in the promotional literature? In this section we explore the reasons respondents gave for choosing their courses at Ipswich.
In the survey students were asked "How important was each of the following factors in your decision to undertake university studies?" The response categories supplied for this question were:
Most students, male and female, indicated that all three categories offered (interest in a particular area, employment and qualifications) were important or very important. Indeed, volunteered responses in the category "Other" mostly either repeated or expanded on the three supplied, however some addressed the intrinsic pleasure or intellectual benefits of learning (e.g. "interested in what I am studying, wanted to know more about it" "[to] meet new people"; "expanding my mind"; "It was important to me to have something meaningful to work on"). These responses bring to the foreground the distinction between extrinsic or pragmatic reasons for studying at university (employment and qualifications) and intrinsic reasons (interest in an area, pleasure or the intellectual benefits of learning).
- Interest in a particular area
- Gaining a qualification for employment
- Having a university degree
One cannot assume, however, that individual students bring to their decision to do a university degree only one motivational factor. This becomes more obvious when we analyse repondents' reasons for selecting the specific course in which they were enrolled. A free-response question (no response categories were supplied) in which students wrote in their reasons for choosing their respective courses was used to explore this issue. Analysis of responses to the course selection question revealed ten themes; individual students' responses often included more than one theme. Details of the themes, with examples, are given below:
- Preparation for future employment. This was the theme that arose most frequently. Responses mostly related to preparation for future employment as a reason for choosing a course, for example: "I want to travel as a job"; "I want to be certified as a teacher"; and, "I had been employed full-time for 3 years with the travel industry and felt a degree in travel would expedite my chances for advancement within the industry"; "I also don't really know what I want to do when I am finished and this course can get me into the fields I am looking at"; "Profesional necessity for future employment in Adult Education".
- Relevance to current employment. "Involved in administration at work"; "My organisation also supports my choice (HCOA)"; "Have been in work force for 4 years and believe it to be most relevant to my situation"; "Working in the Human Services field already and this degree will give me higher qualifications than the Diploma I completed in 1998 at TAFE".
- Location. Responses indicating that the location of the campus influenced course choice: "Because of its location-Ipswich, closer to home & work, less travel"; "Because I live nearby".
- Association with UQ. A few students indicated they were responding to the reputation of the University of Queensland (e.g. "I also wanted to study with UQ because of its superior reputation").
- Interest. "I like both information technology and design"; "I was interested in gaining more knowledge about the issues and problems of the contemporary world"; "I came to the introductory evening; topics seemed interesting and good for intellectual debate so I enrolled"; "I had been looking at study for a few years, but nothing seemed to feel right. I went to a few info sessions, and the Contemporary Studies looked interesting".
- Default choice. Comments from students whose OP score or other entrance requirement was not sufficient for their first choice, for example: "It was the least worst choice I had"; "Had to. Not good enough OP to do what I wanted"; "Closest to what I wanted to do, that I could get into with my OP".
- Using prior credits. First, was the idea that at Ipswich students could gain exemptions for incomplete courses done at other institutions: "So I decided to receive credit from my studies at UQ (Gatton) in hospitality towards a Business Degree"; "Upgrade to BED from DipEd".
- Stepping stones. The second theme was using Ipswich as a stepping stone to a more desired qualification. People who missed out, due to OP scores, on their first choice may hope to move on to their choice for second year. Examples of this were; "So I could upgrade to arts at St.Lucia"; "I would like to upgrade to another course".
Features of the learning environment, campus, or its courses
- Technology rich learning environment. "It had computer oriented learning"; "...delivered using cutting edge technology".
- New Courses/Campus. Comments indicating enthusiasm for the new campus, new courses: "New campus; New course"; "New campus offers many bonuses (smaller classes, more computers, etc.)".
- Jobs of the Future. Some respondents chose Ipswich because they felt it would prepare them for the jobs of the future: "And get into a growing field with loads of opportunity for the future"; "I liked the sound of it and the thought or possibility of being involved in the development of future technology"; "Also, because e-commerce is the way the future of business is heading and this course seemed to be the ideal course to do for this reason."
Overall, by far the most commonly occurring theme was preparation for future employment, which is commensurable with the ANOP (1994:26-27) finding that most students cite employment related reasons for attending university. James, Baldwin and McInnis (1999) found that applicants' field of study preferences are associated with striking differences in the factors they consider important in their choice of a course and university. Whilst our data are insufficient to make any definitive statements in this regard, there is an indication that students studying the Bachelor of Contemporary Studies regard interest in the field as a more important determinant of choice that either employment or gaining a degree. Not surprisingly students in the Graduate Entry Bachelor of Education did not rate getting a degree highly and tended to rate employment above both this and interest.
- Responding to career advice. "It was recommended to my by QTAC"; "The careers adviser I saw recommended this course as a second option as it related in some way to the course I wanted to do".
However, to make any further statements about incidence would be to go beyond the limitations of the data collected. The question asked was Why did you choose the course you are enrolled in? This is an open question to which students respond freely. Rarely will a student volunteer all of the reasons they might have had for course selection (however, we hope they volunteer the most salient ones). If a student does not volunteer a reason this does not necessarily mean that it was not applicable to that student. This type of question is extremely useful for identifying themes (in this case, kinds of reasons), but is of limited use in identifying their frequency of applicability or salience to respondents. This will be done in a later study using a question with supplied response categories.
Discussion and conclusions
When one looks at the ages of the respondent group one can see that about one-half of the students are aged 21 years or less, a quarter are 22-30 years old and the rest are older than 30 years. Many of the results we have reported are consistent with this pattern. Thus the majority of students are living with their parents; the majority have an end of high school certificate as their highest qualification; many are uncertain as to their future after completing their degree and, whilst a majority are in some paid employment it is not for a large number of hours per week. However, the substantial minority of students who are older cannot be ignored by those designing courses at the new campus; both the age and educational qualification distributions suggest that these students bring to their studies knowledge, life experience and qualifications. Teaching staff ought to take account of these students' experiences in the design of subjects and courses. At least two-thirds of respondents have experience of the world of paid work.
The respondents report learning well in a wide range of learning situations, however, they feel they learn best in an informal group rather than alone or in formal classes; this also may have implications for the design of the learning experiences to which students are exposed.
An underlying assumption of most recently created university campuses, including Ipswich, is that modern information technology will play a major role in teaching and learning. We have seen that the respondents in this study by and large have access to computers (albeit, older models in some cases) and some facility in the use of essential software programs. Thus educational designers may assume that the majority of students are confident in the use of word processing, email and web browsing programs, however they may not assume students' facility in the use of other kinds of software.
As we have seen, there are more female students than males (but in fairly similar proportion to those elsewhere in Australia), the students are fairly young (the large majority aged less than 26 years), but somewhat more likely not to be school leavers than elsewhere in Australia. The difference in proportion of school leavers becomes more comprehensible when it is seen that the largest single course enrolment at Ipswich is in the Bachelor of Education degree. This is a graduate entry degree aimed at graduates who wish to teach. It is the only degree at Ipswich in which more than half of those enrolling are aged over 25 years. In contrast, the Bachelor of Business, another degree that has obvious attractions for those seeking a career transition, has a little over three-fifths of its new enrolments in the 19 to 25 years age group.
About one third of the students came from the Ipswich community. Almost all of the remainder came from nearby Brisbane. This outcome is quite consistent with the goal expressed in some of the planning documents, that significant numbers of students be drawn from the Ipswich area and the western areas of Brisbane. It is also consistent with the Australian research findings of Harker, Slade and Ivory (1999) and James, Baldwin and McInnis (1999) that location of the university in relation to home was an important factor in university choice for many potential students.
In this study we explored course choice in two questions. One of these was about the decision to attend university and the other was about the reasons for selecting the specific course of study in which the student was engaged. The implicit model here is that students first choose to attend university and then choose to study a specific course. However, our fixed response question on why students choose to attend university allowed for the possibility that this model is not correct. Almost all students indicated that all three reasons supplied (interest in a particular area; gaining a qualification for employment; having a university degree) were important in their decision to undertake university studies. The first of these reasons amounts, in many cases, to wanting to study a specific course or in a specific area. Students' positive endorsement of this reason undermines to some extent the model that students first elect to go to university and then select a course, and lends support to the results of James, Baldwin and McInnis (1999) that field of study preferences are dominant in students' selection processes.
What reasons, then, did students give for selecting their specific course of study? We found that the reasons fell into a number of easily distinguishable groups. These were:
It is in the nature of the question asked (a "free response" question) that we can make no strong statements about the frequency with which these reasons were applicable. Thus it will be important in future studies to structure "fixed" response questions around these clusters of reasons. We intend to do this in a further study in second semester 2000. It is nonetheless noteworthy that, in addition to the reasons one might expect at any campus (extrinsic reasons related to employment and location; intrinsic reasons related to pleasure and interest), there are reasons to do with the innovative nature of the learning environment and with UQ Ipswich's (marketing) focus on preparation for jobs of the future. This finding is in contrast to James et al (1999) who found in their national study that these latter reasons were minor determinants of course choice. Our locally focussed study indicates that, on a more local level, these reasons may be important.
- extrinsic reasons, which concern what rewards other than pleasure or intellectual rewards students hope to gain from their studies, and factors external to study, such as the location of the course at Ipswich (c.f. Choy & Ottinger, 1998; Weiler, 1994), and reputation of course or institution (Choy & Ottinger, 1998; James et al., 1999). Reasons related to gaining or sustaining employment feature prominently here (c.f. ANOP Research Service Pty. Ltd., 1994);
- intrinsic reasons, which concern pleasure or intellectual rewards to be gained from studying the course, such as personal interest in the field of study (c.f. James et al., 1999);
- instrumental reasons, which concern students using the course for reasons having little to do with their content - to make use of prior credit, or to use study in this course as a stepping stone to entry to another;
- reasons to do with the learning environment, which concern students electing to study Ipswich courses because of the (innovative) way they will be taught, or their innovative content, or their relevance to "new" jobs of the future;
- Hobson's choice, which concerns students who in effect had little or no choice of course of study because of their limited entry qualifications (c.f. Weiler, 1994).
We intend to carry out a further study during the second year of operation of the Ipswich campus, with a larger population of students (around 450) and a questionnaire modified in the light of the findings reported here. We are particularly interested in seeing how important are the various reasons for course selection that we have identified here. We are also well aware that the survey and other results reported here pertain to the first year of operation of a new campus. Such a study is interesting in its own right. Further research will shed light on its applicability to later years of operation.
Dian Benson and Mike Shelly provided valuable assistance with the data on which this paper is based. Ms Benson and Mr Shelly carried out basic statistical analyses of the pre-coded data, while Mr Shelly did the preliminary content analysis of the uncoded data.
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|Contact details: Dr Calvin Smith, University of Queensland|
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Please cite as: Smith, C., Isaacs, G., Holzl, A., Herbert, D. and Roulston, K. (2001). The first cohort at a new campus: Who are they? What do they bring? Where are they going? Why did they come? In L. Richardson and J. Lidstone (Eds), Flexible Learning for a Flexible Society, 643-661. Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference, Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July 2000. ASET and HERDSA. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/aset-herdsa2000/procs/smith1.html
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