How to support those at risk of dropping out

Wonkhe & Tredence UK have carried out a survey called ‘Don’t Drop Out’, which involved over 7,000 students from 121 providers. The purpose was able to identify who is at risk of dropping out of their course and why. 

Some of the reasons highlighted in the survey were:

– Loneliness

– Struggles with mental health

Worryingly, when looking at the specific characteristics captured in the survey, disabled students have had the most negative academic experience, and are at the highest risk of drop out.

Inconsistencies around course delivery and inaccessible technology cropped up in the survey, as did themes like disabled students not knowing their rights and lacking the confidence to complain.

For some disabled students who are considering dropping out, their disability might not be a factor. However, there is a link between physical health and mental health and it certainly seems that the shift to online delivery over the last several months is having an impact. Perhaps the study support disabled students had on campus isn’t at place at home. Maybe students are finding lectures and university events inaccessible, or the technology and platforms used are hard to navigate.   

The Wonkhe article does list some practical things that can be done, based on the responses they received from students.

I know that lots of people will already be taking steps to ensure disabled students are engaged and thought about. Here are some ideas I had:

  • Send a targeted email to those students registered with the Disability Service to let them know about the support available from the Careers Service
  • Put on a disability-related webinar for students to attend. This could be an informative session, or something interactive and informal, more in the vein of a Q&A
  • Mental Health First Aid training might be available at your University. Going on that might help with being able to spot struggling students and learn some techniques to have conversations with students who might want to talk abut how they are feeling
  • Be familiar with what is on offer at the University. This might be wellbeing events, fun activities, or promoting the student disability network (if there is one)
  • Here’s an important one: the survey really emphasises the difficulties some learners have with accessing lectures etc.  Think about the accessibility of your resources, departmental forms, and your webinars. This extends also to ensuring accurate captions are available for pre-recorded sessions. Using the accessibility checker when using MS Office applications is also a useful habit to get into
  • Going to back to what the survey found about students not complaining. Just because students don’t voice the fact that they couldn’t access a form or follow a webinar, doesn’t mean there isn’t an issue
  • It’s a good idea to extend careers appointments for disabled students. So, if your standard appointment time is 30 minutes, consider making it 45 for disabled students

Really, anything that will keep disabled students feeing valued and motivated during this difficult time.

Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of Westminster


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