Monday, May 7, 2018

Studying half or less of a full-time student’s study load is a major non-completion risk

Norton, Cherastidtham and Mackey (2018) found that students studying half or less of a full-time load at university are at risk of not completing. The authors estimate that about 20% of the students commencing a bachelor degree in 2018, will not get the degree. They suggest alerting those considering study of the risk factors. However, I suggest there are many other ways to improve student outcomes.

One counter-intuitive recent finding by Shea and Bidjerano (2018) is that adding some on-line courses improves the completion of otherwise face-to-face campus based students. The optimal mix is between 10% and 60% online, depending on the institution, with the average being 40%. This was for US community colleges and it would be interesting to see if the same applies in Australia. It may be that the highly scaffolded nature of online courses helps struggling students, or it may be just that they can do an online course when their only other option would have been to terminate their studies.

Another way to improve university completion is with nested programs. With this option a student earns a sub-degree qualification after the equivalent of as little as six months study. They can use that qualification to help get a better job, and come back to study more later. It doesn't matter if the student takes eight, or more, years to earn a degree, as they have useful qualifications before then. Also it is much easier to be a student, and to teach students, who are already working in the field they are studying. The students can use their workplace experience in assignments and apply what they learn immediately. This might be a way to improve university completion statistics, with those who previously were recorded as degree non-completions instead being sub-degree completions.

One option I have found useful as a student myself is online study part time, with one course at a time and three or four courses a year. By deleting the usual long university holiday breaks between courses (which are largely irrelevant to part time students), it is possible to complete three or four courses a year. This allows a student to undertake a half full-time load, without the added burden of two courses at once.

The use of scaffolding in courses and on-line support for students between courses, use of e-portfolios and non-conventional assessment helps. At the micro level the student, especially the part time student, needs to know what they need to do right now. Also it is useful to provide an option where the student can document their learning and earn credit without having to complete a formal course.


Norton, A., Cherastidtham, I., and Mackey, W. (2018).
Dropping out: the benefits and costs of trying university. Grattan Institute. URL

SHEA, Peter; BIDJERANO, Temi. Online Course Enrollment in Community College and Degree Completion: The Tipping Point. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, [S.l.], v. 19, n. 2, may. 2018. ISSN 1492-3831. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 05 May. 2018. doi:

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