Solving the Revolving Door Syndrome

First Year Academic transition
 Background of the study
 Introduction
 Theoretical Framework
 Definitions of Academic-, social-, and personal-emotional transition
 Academic Transition
 Recommendations
The transition from high school to university poses huge academic and social adjustment
difficulties to students, due to much bigger and more complex environments. The academic
demands on students at university are far greater than the challenges they face in high school
(Simpson, 2004:11).
Since the election of a new democratic government in 1994, Black students have increasingly
gained access to universities and constitute the majority of the student population in most
universities. However deeper analysis reveals that although statistics show an increase in Black
enrolments at all universities, Black African students have the highest attrition and failure rates.
Hence students enter the system, fail and remain for many years at the university and eventually
drop-out – phenomenon commonly termed the revolving door syndrome (Mokgalong, 2009:20).
The phrase refers to the ease with which students are able to enrol in universities or
colleges and the equal ease with which they can drop out (Ignash, 1993:1).
In addition, student attrition has been a focal point of investigation for many years. According to
Simpson (2004:1) student retention is one of the supreme areas of concern in higher education.
Goldrick-Rab et al. (2007:2445) assert that the literature on higher education is saturated with
studies about the transition of students to college or universities, but that further research is
needed regarding the transition process itself. Scholars have inter alia neglected to study –
among other important topics – how students perceive the factors that influence their transition
experience according to Locks, Hurtado, Bowman & Oseguera (2008: 257) and supported by
Clark (2005:296).
In Australia, over a third of students who enroll in university programmes do not graduate – the
attrition rate for first-year students is between 24% and 30% (Strahm & Danaher, 2005:45).
Furthermore according to Letseka and Maile (2008:1), South Africa’s tertiary graduation rate of
15% is one of the lowest in the world. In higher education, the greatest rate of student attrition
occurs in the first year of undergraduate study (McInnis, Hartley, Polesel, and Teese, 2000:12).
Various studies done in Australia and other overseas’ countries (McInnis, James, & McNaught,
1995; Tinto, 1993) clearly highlight the importance of assisting students –with the academic
and social adjustment aspects of their transition into university – with a view of improving
first-year students’ retention, satisfaction and performance levels (Fowler & Muckert,
The theoretical framework for this study is based on the transition theory of Schlossberg
(1995:48) (a student developmental theory) and the persistency theory according to Tinto &
Pusser (2006:12).
Schlossberg (1995) developed a comprehensive theory, the transition theory, which includes a
description of the transition process as well as the four major factors that impact on a students’
ability or inability to cope with the transition from school to university. The theory takes into
account the factors, namely situation, self, support and strategies that influence a students’
Students living in residences or away from home (situation) experience challenges to cope with
the change. The students’ characteristics (self, i.e. resilience, may assist him to cope with change
better than another student, whereas a student, who struggled academically, will find it difficult to
stay on track and will need guidance in the unstructured university system. The last two factors –
support and strategy – are essential for smooth transition to university. Universities support
students through, amongst other, orientation programmes, campus organizations, student
development and support programmes and residence orientation programmes.
According to Tinto & Pusser (2006), higher education institutions must create an environment in
which students’ can flourish. They list five institutional factors that may assist students to succeed,
namely: commitment, expectations, support, feedback and involvement. Tinto also outlines
four reasons why students depart prematurely from university – economic, organizational,
psychological and sociological reasons.
It is contended by Baker & Siryck (1984b:179) that academic transition refers to the ability of
students to deal with the variety of educational demands associated with attending college or
Tinto (1993) explains that social transition refers to a student’s ability to cope with the
interpersonal-societal demands of the college or university experience. Although universities
have formal academic standards, there are no requirements for membership of the social systems of
Baker & Siryk (1984b) confirm that the amount of general emotional distress a student experiences
during the transition process comprises personal-emotional transition. Personal-emotional transition
may be determined by students’ sense of emotional and physical well-being. Personal-emotional
adjustment has serious implications for adjustment to college or university, as well as matters of social
and academic adjustment.
In order to understand the transition process – from school to a tertiary institution – it is necessary
to explore the literature with regard to academic transition:
Academic performance at school and the public school system
The consequences of the former apartheid system of education in South Africa are still being felt –
it apparently hampers the career prospects of (particularly) Black learners, therefore, the
education and training sectors are intently being transformed and reorganised (Kahn, 2004:149).
The South African education system is failing to produce competent learners (Mail &
Guardian, 2010:1). Learners are not able to read, write and count at expected levels, and they are
unable to perform tasks that demonstrate key skills associated with literacy and numeracy
(Department of Education, 2008).
Regarding the South African Grade 9 learners’ performance ineptitude, it was demonstrated – in
the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) survey in 2011 – that their
performances in mathematics and natural sciences were significantly lower than that of
learners from all the other participating countries in the study. The study also highlighted the
relation between their inability to read and write, as well as their poor performance in
mathematics and natural science. Learners showed not only a lack of understanding of
mathematical and science questions, but also an inability to communicate their answers
verbally and in writing (Howie, 2004:150). However, when it comes to the quantity and quality of
performance at the top level, South Africa is not globally competitive (Reddy, 2012:1)
The failure rate in mathematics at South African schools remains unacceptably high (Maree,
Pretorius & Eiselen, 2003; Steyn & Maree, 2003; 399). There exist vast gaps between the quality
of schooling provided for, and the achievement of white and African students (Maree, Claassen &
Prinsloo, 1997; Saunders, 1996, 18-19). Since the Grade 12 national examination results still
largely determine whether a learner will be accepted to sought-after fields of study at tertiary
institutions, many technological and scientific fields of study are out of reach for Black learners
(Sibaya & Sibaya, 1997: 9).
Further hampering factors – according to Maree, Aldous, Hattingh, Swanepoel & Van der Linde
(2006: 229) – are:
poor socio-economic background of learners
poor motivation to study at home
lack of appropriate learner support materials
general poverty of the school environment
general poor quality of teachers and teaching (including poor subject
knowledge and poor motivation)
language of instruction (often not the same as the learners’ mother tongue)
inadequate study orientation
In a recent Student Retention and Graduate Destination Study, Letseka et al.
(2010:13) found that the historically Black institutions (HBIs) had the highest
proportion of low socio-economic status respondents and the historically white
institutions (HWIs) had the highest socio-economic status.
Letseka’s et al. research (2010:13) further indicated that the institution with the
next highest percentage of low SES students was the TUT (66%); followed by
the CPUT (74%), the UWC (79%), and lastly the UFH and the UL (both 82%).
The SES (socio-economic status) of the respondents in the survey was
calculated on a combination of the following ordinal variables:
-education level of the father/male guardian
-educational level of the mother/female guardian
-income level of the father/male guardian
-income level of the mother/female guardian
The introduction of an OBE (outcomes-based education system; amended in 2001), does not
appear to be yielding satisfactory results. Alarmingly, the vast majority of Grade 6 learners in the
Western Cape in South Africa (normally one of the top-achieving provinces) have not even
mastered the literacy and numeracy levels expected of Grade 4 learners (Kassiem, 2004:1).
Of the approximately 35 000 Grade 6 learners tested in the Western Cape in 2003, only 15,6%
passed the numeracy test. Moreover, the results confirmed the huge discrepancy between the
achievements of former model C schools (predominantly white learners) to those of previously
disadvantaged schools (Black learners) according to the Education MEC of the Western Cape
(Dugmore in Kassiem, 2004:1).
Simpson (2004:16) revealed that students who are motivated to attend college or university – in
order to attain a better career, or for personal development – tend to have better academic
performances than students with a higher Intelligence Quotient (IQ) who attend college or
university – because this is what their parents expect of them. Moreover, students with higher
IQs – but a negative motivation for attending college or university – do not rate their college or
university experience as positive and tend to have a less successful transition.
Skills deficits
Shocking findings show that South African learners are consistently underachieving, counting not only
amongst the worst in the world, but often amongst the worst in Africa. Education policy specialist Graeme
Bloch states that 60-80% of our schools are dysfunctional. They produce barely literate and numerate learners and
Bloch believes the country is headed for a national education crisis. He identifies the toxic mix of factors that
are causing this crisis, taking government and teachers to task for not performing as they should and highlighting
the socio-economic challenges that many learners face (Bloch, 2009:1).
Many of the country’s graduates lack communication skills, writing skills and the ability to think critically,
according to JIPSA (Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition Report on activities, 2007).
It is the contention of Price (2009:1) that the comprehensive merger of South Africa’s higher education
institutions has blurred the strengths and weaknesses of various universities. This means there is an
over-emphasis on research-oriented universities – such as the UCT – and the marginalisation of
universities that should be teaching more practical or more generic skills. ‘Because of a lack of
differentiation, SA is failing’ (Hadland, 2009:1). In this regard, Hadland refers to the United States of America
(USA) where higher education colleges are offering two-year bridging diplomas. Graduates from those colleges
are sought after by the ‘big’ universities because they can prove they have the stamina, independence and skills to
achieve a tertiary qualification (Hadland, 2009:1).
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Section C was completed by the mentees (n = 45) and the ‘non-mentees’ (n = 62) that gives a
total of combined (n = 107). Further analyses were subsequently done by examining the
differences of the subgroups separately (‘mentees’ and ‘non-mentees’), in order to gain insight
into the magnitude of the disparities (if any) between the two subgroups.
Difficulty with academic studies; mentees and non-mentees
In the case of the subgroups, 22% of the mentees and 31% of the non-mentees respectively,
agreed that they found academic work difficult. This finding can be interpreted that the
mentees found academic work less difficult than the non-mentees. Mentoring sessions could
have assisted the mentees with their academic work.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups’ functioning during tests or exams
This graph indicates that 18% of the mentees and 27% of the non-mentees respectively, agreed with
the statement that they did not function well during tests or examinations. This finding suggests
that about a quarter of the students’ experienced test- or examination anxiety, but the mentees
experience less stress during tests and exams.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Satisfaction with the level of academic
As far as the subgroups are concerned, equal percentages of the mentees
and of the non-mentees (50%) were satisfied with their level of academic
performance, which leaves much room for improvement.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Informal, personal contact with lecturers
This graph indicates that 25% of mentees and 44% of non-mentees
respectively, had informal, as well as personal contact with
lecturers. The mentees had less contact with lecturers than nonmentees – possibly due to the mentees’ greater exposure to
student mentors.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Working not so hard in their course work
This graph indicated that 56% of the mentees and 48% of the non-mentees
respectively had not worked as hard as they should in their course
work. Although the difference is small, the finding may suggest that the
mentees – who had attended a mentoring course with sessions on
goal setting – had been sensitized that they need to work harder.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Academic goals are well-defined
This graph indicates that 84% of the mentees and 83% of the nonmentees agreed that their academic goals had been well-defined.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Effective time usage
The results disclose that 55% of the mentees and 69% of the nonmentees respectively, knew how to use their time effectively.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Self-motivational levels for studies
This graph indicates that 29% of mentees and 42% of non-mentees
respectively, agreed that their motivation levels for studies were low. It
is recommended that all first-year students need to attend support
programmes at university.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Getting along with lecturers
This graph indicates that almost two-thirds of both subgroups agreed
they got along with their lecturers. This is a positive appraisal of the
TUT’s lecturers.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Difficulty feeling at ease to approach lecturers
The finding with regard to the total sample is echoed in the subgroups:
36% of the mentees and 35% of non-mentees respectively, found it
difficult to approach their lecturers. The reasons why the students
experienced difficulty to approach lecturers should be investigated.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Trouble concentrating when studying
This graph indicates that 37,21% of the mentees and 43% of the nonmentees respectively, agreed they had trouble concentrating when
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Academic achievement vs. amount of work
As far as the subgroups are concerned, it can be deduced from this graph that 29% of
the mentees and 55% of non-mentees respectively, mentioned they had not been
doing well enough academically for the amount of work they had put in. The
time planning sessions could have equipped the mentees with skills to plan effectively
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: The school environment did prepare me well for
It can be deduced that 66% of the mentees and 56% of the nonmentees respectively agreed that the school environment had
prepared them well for university. The average output of matric
classes countrywide today is almost three times larger than the
average tertiary education intake. This suggests that matriculants are
not well enough prepared for university and/or do not have the
financial resources for tertiary study according to Frans Cronje of the
South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) (2010:1).
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Attending classes regularly
As far as the subgroups are concerned, 98% of both subgroups
indicated that they attended classes regularly
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Trouble getting started on homework assignments
It is shown in this graph that the subgroups – 26% of the mentees and 36%
of non-mentees, respectively – had trouble getting started on homework
assignments. The finding suggests that the mentees benefited from the time
planning and goal setting sessions.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Trouble getting started to study for tests
This results reveals that 26% of the mentees and 44% of the nonmentees respectively had trouble getting started to study for tests.
Mentees’ sessions on time planning may have borne fruit. The finding
show procrastination.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Most of the things I am interested in are not
related to any of my course work
As far as the subgroups are concerned, it is shown in this graph
that 20% of the mentees and 22% of non-mentees respectively,
agreed that their main interests were not necessarily related
to their course work.
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Drop out from university
It is shown in this graph that only small proportions – 11% of
the mentees and 6% of the non-mentees respectively – had
been giving a lot of thought to drop out from university
for good
Academic Transition of mentees and nonmentees
Subgroups: Taking time off from university and finish later
It is revealed in this graph that 11% of the mentees and 10% of
the non-mentees respectively, had thought about taking time
off from university and finish later
The subject that mentees had
struggled most with (only the top 5)
(n = 24)
Economics 18%
Chemistry 13%
Anatomy & Physiology 13%
Microbiology 13%
Accounting 9%
Community Development
Tourism I
Tourism Management
Microbiology Nutrition 1
Academic-, Social- and Personal-emotional
Transition of mentees and non-mentees
Academic Transition
Sessions on various themes such as goal-setting, motivation, time management, note-taking, summarising,
memorising, writing skills, learning styles and study methods could assist the students with their academic
Social Transition
Regarding social transition, opportunities could be created for students to participate in social activities such as
sport competitions between residences and academic departments; drum majorettes’ competitions; serenade
activities and students’ carnivals.
Personal-emotional Transition
The personal-emotional transition of first year students could be enhanced by sessions on internal and external
locus of control; stress management; coping strategies and conflict management.
Faculty-based Residences
The transition in the residences can be approved by creating faculty-based residences, senior mentors can
assist first years in their specific subject content.
To continue the conversation:
[email protected]
012-382 5092

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