Investigating first year language students’ decisions to continue: design and implementation of student retention questionnaires

Jane Hanley, Katherine Brownlee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


High levels of student attrition in first-year language courses are widely reported both anecdotally and in research into tertiary language programs. Many assumptions are made about factors that cause both failure to complete a course or to enrol in subsequent course; however, various challenges confront researchers hoping to establish reliable data regarding the prevalence of different factors affecting both discontinuance and persistence. Student questionnaires, as one avenue for investigating student attitudes and motivations towards their language studies, form the basis of a comparative study commenced in 2009 at Macquarie University, Australia, where the wide offering of languages, variable course enrolment levels and different patterns of attrition offer a potentially useful series of comparable case studies for better understanding student retention and motivation in language study. The differences between different language programs, however, create further challenges in designing and implementing the study, and in this paper the authors describe some of the consequent limitations to the generalisability of data. The discussion of these challenges indicates some of the conditions which must be in place for research around persistence factors to give meaningful results that identify the most relevant aspects of the student experience for student retention: those which lie within the control of teachers and administrators in university language programs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-20
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the world universities forum
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Language Teaching
  • Student Retention
  • Persistence
  • Questionnaire Design


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