Engagement and undergraduate retention: social network analysis and student social ecologies

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Woolcott, G, Keast, R, Chamberlain, D & Farr-Wharton, B 2016, 'Engagement and undergraduate retention: social network analysis and student social ecologies', Research in Higher Education, vol. 31.


Undergraduate student retention is known to be complex and subject to multiple factors acting together on individual students in different contexts. This study examines an innovative multifactorial model that provides a student-centered and place-based identification of the duality of risk/opportunity in undergraduate education. The model, developed using a novel alignment of social network theory and ecological systems theory, is here applied to analysis of a large archive of behavioral data sets related to 4065 undergraduate students at a regional university in Australia. The model provided illustrations of how previously identified risk factors are connected within social ecologies, both for individuals and groups. The analysis also provided additional risk factors, calculated from the social ecology data sets. All risk factors were examined against the background of the student social ecology network with significant results: the identified risk factors can be seen to be linked in some individuals and sub-cohorts; the newly-identified risk factors can also be linked; and, all risk factors can be connected to other proximal factors. Implications for intervention and support are discussed.