|Author(s)||Muldoon, R. & Wijeyewardene, I.|
|Editor||P. Cunningham (ed.) Identities and Citizenship Education: Controversy, crisis and challenges|
Tertiary enabling education is expanding rapidly in Australia following government initiatives in 2008 aimed at increasing the proportion engaged in higher education of people from disadvantaged groups, especially those from low socio-economic status backgrounds. The University of New England became involved in enabling education with the Pathways Enabling Program (PEP) which was designed to make the benefits of higher education accessible to people who do not otherwise have the necessary skills and credentials. Student outcomes in the first five years of the Program show that it has removed previous constraints and disadvantages for many. However, attrition rates are very high (Muldoon, 2011). This paper reports on research exploring the experience of persisting and non-persisting PEP students in 2011-2012. Two questionnaires were administered to enrolled PEP students in the second week and the second last week of two consecutive intakes to the Program and a third questionnaire targeted students in the same cohorts who dropped out in between. The surveys probed students’ past educational experiences, their personal circumstances, their expectations of the Program, their learning styles and approaches, and in the case of non-persisters, their reasons for leaving the Program. It appears that attrition is far less of a problem than it appears. Most of it is 'positive' attrition attributed to students making an informed choice to withdraw. Some is similar to undergraduate attrition. However, most reasons for withdrawal seem to be distinctive to enabling education. Surprisingly, they are not related to students’ prior educational disadvantage or approach to learning but more to current lifestyle factors with the majority of non-persisting students not ruling out the possibility of re-enrolling at another time. Understanding these lifestyle factors and making adjustments to accommodate them is critical to the success of the PEP and other similar programs aimed at removing barriers to participation in higher education for people previously affected by educational and social disadvantage. Keywords: Enabling education, educational and social disadvantage, attrition, persistence and non-persistence.