P18 – Strategies for increasing engagement, social inclusion and success of minority students in the first year in higher education.

Room C – TUESDAY 16:15-17:15

Faumuina A/Professor Sopoaga

Dept Prev and Soc Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago

Faumuina is the Associate Dean Pacific in Health Sciences, University of Otago, NZ and the Director of the Pacific Research Unit, which supports engagement, participation and success of minority students. She trained initially in medicine and holds a high chief title from the beautiful Pacific Island of Samoa.


Pacific students represent a minority group in New Zealand who, like non indigenous smaller minority groups in many countries, find engagement with university and subsequent academic achievement difficult. This paper discusses the impact of a targeted programme aimed at increasing engagement and success of minority underrepresented students in higher education.


The successful engagement from school into their first year at University has arguably the greatest implications for subsequent student success at university and major implications for their future success beyond University (Dickson, Fleet, & Watt, 2000; DiGregorio, Farrington, & Page, 2000; Gall, Evans, & Bellerose, 2000). Engagement has been defined to be the quality of a student academic effort that contributes to desired outcomes (Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinzie, & Gonyea, 2008). However, the concept of engagement remains complex with many publications expanding on key elements of the construct. Most studies focus upon individual sub constructs derived from the work of Tinto such as a student’s abilities and skills, successful academic integration, social integration within the university and social interaction beyond the university (Tinto, 1975, 2007). In practice, the focus includes the efforts institutions make to enable students to take up the support and services it provides (Tinto, 1997, 2000). Recent focus on students’ engagement with their University is increasing. However, the issues involved have been recognised as complex.

Pacific students represent a minority group in New Zealand who, like non indigenous smaller minority groups in many countries, find engagement with university and subsequent academic achievement difficult. Pacific communities in New Zealand are characterised by a predominantly young demographic structure from low socio-economic groups (Ministry of Health, 2012). In line with international trends toward increased participation by minority groups in higher education, and in response to poor academic levels for Pacific peoples in New Zealand, the New Zealand government has responded by making Pacific participation and achievement at University a priority (Minstry of Education, 2011).

One response to assisting the level of engagement of Pacific student in the first year at University has been to develop a Pacific Orientation Programme at Otago (POPO) to improve engagement and outcomes for students. (Sopoaga & Van der Meer, 2011). POPO is a programme that comprises of three main components. A pre-orientation residential programme to introduce students and their parents to the University, a mentoring programme with the support of senior Pacific students and a series of academic tutorials in collaboration with academic departments.

The academic performance of students in the first year at University was monitored against their attendance at POPO mentoring and academic programmes and allocated colour categories. Students were categorised into three categories (“Green”, “Amber” and “Red”) from a model previously developed based on the predicted probability of passing all four Semester 1 papers (Kokaua, Sopoaga F, Zaharic, & Van der Meer, 2014). “Green” refer to students with a high probability, “Red” those with a low probability and “Amber” those with an intermediate probability of passing all Semester 1 papers. Data on Pacific students’ academic performance in their first year of Health Science from 2012-2014 at the University of Otago was obtained. For binary outcomes, such as the proportion who passed all papers in a Semester 1, logistic regressions were used to show the effects of engagement with the POPO programme over time. Linear regression models were used to show the effects of the POPO engagement (mentoring and academic programmes) and colour categories on the average marks for students. All data were analysed using STATA version 13 and results processed in MSExcel.

In the past three years the POPO programme has seen 220 health sciences students who identified with Pacific ethnicity; 106 in 2014, 67 in 2013 and 47 in 2012. The aim of this paper is to report on the ongoing progress of the programme to date. The intention is to refine the POPO program for each student that will enable them to overcome any shortcomings that may exist in their academic preparation prior to attending University and retain and enable other students attain and exceed their expectation of achievement. Our research shows that student engagement is directly linked to improved academic performance and success.

References :

Dickson, J., Fleet, A., & Watt, H. (2000). Success or Failure in a Core University Unit: What makes the difference? Higher Education Research & Development, 19(1), 59-65. doi: 10.1080/07294360050020471

DiGregorio, K., Farrington, S., & Page, S. (2000). Listening to our Students: Understanding the factors that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ academic success. Higher Education Research & Development, 19(3), 297-309. doi: 10.1080/758484344

Gall, T., Evans, D., & Bellerose, S. (2000). Transition to first-year university: Patterns of change in adjustment across life domains and time. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19(4), 544-557. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2000.19.4.544

Kokaua, J., Sopoaga F, Zaharic, T., & Van der Meer, J. (2014). The development of a pre-enrolment screening tool to inform targeted support services in the first year in health sciences The International Journal in the First Year in Higher Education, 5(1), 55-66. doi: 10.5204/intjfyhe.v5i1.205

Kuh, G., Cruce, T., Shoup, R., Kinzie, J., & Gonyea, R. (2008). Unmasking the Effects of Student Engagement on First-Year College Grades and Persistence. The Journal of Higher Education, 79(5), 540-553.

Ministry of Health. (2012). Tupu Ola Moui 2012. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Health.

Minstry of Education. (2011). Pacifika Education Plan 2009-2012. Wellington, New Zealand: Minstry of Education Retrieved from http://pasifika.tki.org.nz/Pasifika-Education-Plan.

Sopoaga, F., & Van der Meer, J. (2011). Building a Pacific health workforce in New Zealand: Initial findings from a transition project in first year health sciences at university. A Practice Report. The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 2(2), 61-68. doi: 10.5204/intjfyhe.v2i2.88

Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from Higher Education: A Theoretical Synthesis of Recent Research. Review of Educational Research, 45(1), 89-125. doi: 10.3102/00346543045001089

Tinto, V. (1997). Classrooms as communities, exploring the educational character of persistence. The Journal of Higher Education, 68(6), 599-623. doi: 10.2307/2959965

Tinto, V. (2000). What have we learned about the impact of learning communities on students? Assessment Update: Progress, Trends and Practices in Higher Education, 12(2), 1-2.

Tinto, V. (2007). Research and Practice of Student Retention: What’s next? Journal of College Student Retention, 8(1), 1-19.

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