My concern about low-ATAR students is primarily about their high risk of not completing a degree. But in this we tend to focus much more on underlying academic ability than on the circumstances in which students study. Completions analysis shows that off campus and part-time students have non-completion risks that are very similar to those faced by below 50 ATAR students, as the slide below shows.
The number of commencing off-campus and part-time students greatly exceeds the number of commencing low ATAR students, as the next slide shows. We are doing some more work at the moment to try to understand the interactions between these factors. In 2015, for example, 24,000 commencing bachelor students were both part-time and off-campus – are these cumulative risk factors, or both just proxies for students with other commitments? Distraction from study could be the actual main risk factor.
Source: Department of Education and Training (domestic students only)
Low ATAR is an issue. But if we are worried about increasing attrition, we have to focus on how students are engaging with their studies and not just how well they did at school.
Update: The day after I wrote this post, the Department released new completion statistics. They are slightly worse than the numbers shown in the first chart.