Facilitating Transition from Rural Schools to University
Australian Journal of Career Development
This case study describes a career education program that has engaged rural high school students with the experience of university. The residential experience program included learning exercises for career exploration, attending university, and social experiences related to living in a city. Evaluation indicated that rural schools and students have engaged with the program and that there was tentative evidence indicative of a positive impact upon the participants' career aspirations and
... rations and decisionmaking. he Australian Education Council (1991) has highlighted the issue of rurality in its major report on young people's participation in postcompulsory education. Furthermore, research by the National Board of Employment Education and Training (NBEET) (1991) has found evidence that the provision of post-compulsory education to rural Australians was seriously lacking. Subsequent research has identified rurality as a significant factor regarding access and participation in higher education (Much of this research indicated that there has been a differential in educational resources for rural and isolated students in contrast to their metropolitan counterparts. Furthermore, there has also been some exploration of the psychological aspects of rurality and their impact upon access. James et al. (1999) inspected crucial, but subtle T variables underpinning the global, and somewhat stereotypical notion of 'rurality' in the context of students' choices relating to higher education. Their research indicated that the decision to apply for a university place was embedded in a nexus of interpersonal and cultural themes. This research implied a need to address students' psychosocial status (viz, attitudes and expectations), as distinct from purely structural or material service initiatives aimed at mitigating the impediments of rurality. Harvey-Beavis and Robinson's (2000) research revealed a theme within participants' images of university students and staff as being socially and intellectually remote and strange. The data also indicated errors in students' understanding of administrative processes and daily activities of university life. Overall, the research found that students' thinking was related to their understanding of the people at universities and the prospective outcomes of study regarding the world of work. (2002) have outlined an important program developed at the University of Melbourne, called Uni for a Day. Rural students were taken to the university for a day of exposure to the environment and activities of the campus. This program had lasting effects upon the participants' decisions to attend university. Rhoden and Boin Direct contact with the university was highlighted as an important feature of the program. Their program has made considerable progress toward a model of mitigating psychosocial barriers to university. In summary, the applied literature has indicated two important facets of impaired access to university because of rurality: resources and mindset. The program presented in this paper addressed some of the issues on a practical level through a three-day residential career education program for rural school students at the University of Southern Queensland. In order to raise rural students' awareness of university life and the potential educational and career options available, the program addressed issues surrounding rurality and students' mindset in relation to university. The annual program has been in operation since 1999, with sponsorship from the Queensland Studies Authority (QSA) (previously Tertiary Entrance Procedures Authority). Target Population & Student Selection The catchment area for the program included the districts of northwest, central-west, southwest Queensland, and the Darling Downs. USQ and Toowoomba have significant educational, cultural and commercial links with these regions. The driving distance from the participating students' hometowns and Toowoomba has ranged from one hour to 20 hours. The QSA and local teacher selected students who were deemed to be at risk of not attending university, because of personal or community impediments were given priority for selection. Staffing The Careers and Welfare section of USQ's Student Services managed the majority of the program. Student Services staffing contribution included two counsellors, student mentors, and administrative staff. In most cases the mentors were previous students of the program. The QSA representative played an important role in the program's logistics and conducted an information session for the students. The program also included lecturers, faculty liaison staff, and university marketing staff. In earlier years the participants completed a feedback survey which was unstructured and used open-ended questions regarding satisfaction. In 2003, the students completed an evaluation survey of the program in the final session of the final day. This survey was used to procure feedback from students to determine their level of satisfaction with the program and to assess their opinions on a range of variables related to university. The survey used a Likert-scale of 1 to 5, for which 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree across the seven items. PROGRAM CONTENT Career Exploration Seminar & University Application Information Students participated in a three-part career exploration seminar. The division of the seminar into three components allowed students to breakout for other activities and to undertake practical exploration work. The seminar was based upon a modified version of the Stevens' Model of Career Development (Stevens, 1993). Although the Final and authorised version first published in the Stevens' model is most apt for adults, we were able to modify it sufficiently to suit high school students by removing reference to common adult issues (e.g., children, employers). The first part of the seminar focused on self-exploration issues (e.g., interests, values). The seminar also includes a section on the jargon of university. Students were informed of the terminology necessary to navigate their way through university handbooks and brochures. For instance, there was a description of the meaning of words like 'bachelor' and 'credit-point'. At the end of the first part of the seminar, students were given the psychometric inventory. The inventory was completed within the class setting and then returned to the counsellors for scoring. The second part of the seminar involved a discussion of the results of the psychometric inventory and brainstorming how the results may open possible pathways for exploration in the assignment. The assignment required the students to access the website My Future and search for information about their interest areas, including possible educational options. The final part of the career exploration seminar was a group discussion of the results of their exploration. The career exploration seminar was followed by a presentation made by a representative of the QSA. This involved an open discussion forum on how to apply for entry into university through the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC). This presentation was a powerful vehicle for clarifying any concerns or questions about the admission process. Faculty and Student Guild Presentations The USQ Faculties provided a detailed understanding of the content of degrees, particularly degrees common to most universities (e.g., Bachelor of Arts). A lecturer Final and authorised version first published in the also presented a lecture in one of the main theatres. This provided the students with an understanding of how university lectures were different from school classrooms. Students were given a hands-on demonstration of the facilities within the main library of the university. This included use of the electronic catalogues and internet searching. The Student Guild described the role of student unions on campus and how they contribute to the community of a university. Campus Living and City Tours An inherent component of the program is its requirement for students to experience living in the city and university environment. Students were accommodated at one of the USQ colleges. Mentors conducted tours of the university campus and city. The campus tours were interspersed between program sessions. Public transport was used as a way of familiarising students with the concept and practice of intracity transit. They were taken into the city for activities such as ten-pin bowling, going to the cinema, and shopping.