Successful first-year students' perceptions and experiences of retention and throughput at a selected FET College
The Further Education and Training Colleges Sector is a new phenomenon and attract students from school who are unprepared for the rigours of further education and training. This could have a direct impact on retention and throughput of first-year students in the sector. Against this backdrop student retention and success or throughput is a critical topic for further education and training in the public FET Colleges. The goal of this research was to explore and describe the challenges of retention and throughput from the perceptions and experiences of successful first-year students based on the assumption that lessons can be learned from this. The objectives were to explore and describe successful first-year students’ perceptions and experiences of retention and throughput a selected FET college; make recommendations to the management of the FET college sector; and to describe the role of social work to increase retention. An explorative, descriptive and contextual research design was adopted for the purpose of the study. It was conducted at Northlink FET College, Protea campus in Bellville, Cape Town. The population encompasses academic inclusion criteria for homogeneity and included all successful first-year students who met the minimum pass requirements for all their subjects in the national examination results of November 2007 and the supplementary examination results of February 2008. Non-probability purposive sampling was used to select the sample of 21 participants. Focus group interviews were facilitated by a semi-structured interview guide. The interviews were conducted in English and Afrikaans to accommodate the diversity of the participants. The data analysis and verification were done according to the framework recommended by Cresswell (1998). The findings of the study revealed that the following factors are strong predictors for student retention and success: Environmental influences within the college contribute to successful throughput and retention. These include financial aid, student support and developmental services, monitoring student progress, study programs and safety of the college. Public internet, library and transport services were experienced as important essentials which contributed significantly to the retention and success of the participants. The participants experienced the lack of an internet and library service, and study facility at the campus a major challenge to overcome. Student support in the form of group support or peer help, study groups, student counselling and referral for rehabilitation services were key determinants or predictors for the retention and throughput of the participants. The importance of trusting relationships also featured as key factors in the form of family and role models contributing to the success and persistence of the participants. Relationships in the academic environment with the academic staff and their communication styles of practicing such as flexible communication channels and democratic authoritarian relationship building contributed significantly to the receptiveness of learning and the success and persistence of the participants.Key factors with regards to the significant strengths of the participants which have contributed to their retention and throughput highlighted by the findings of the study included self-efficacy with its underpinning developmental intrinsic aspects self-discipline,self-esteem, independent decision-making, locus of control and acquiring essentials skills to adapt to student life. These attributes are strong predictors of student success and retention as have emerged from the findings of the study. Personal challenges such as hard times, drug abuse, learning disabilities, health problems and single parenting were indicated by the participants as strong predictors to rise above these adversities by persisting and succeed to enjoy a good quality life. The participants’ perception of education and employment were inter-linked toward an outcome for economic benefit and also perceived as a strong predictor for retention and throughput. Other factors indicated by the participants that have contributed to their retention and throughput, are neighbourhood and socio-economic background. The findings of this research study are generally in line with most of the studies conducted at community colleges internationally, and with some of the studies conducted at institutions of Higher Education in South Africa.