Student retention remains one the most widely researched areas in higher education. However, there exists a paucity of research that has examined student retention through the lens of first-year students who have been dismissed from their institution, particularly within Canadian health-related undergraduate programs. Using a qualitative narrative inquiry, this study explored the lived experiences of 10 former first-year students in the University of British Columbia’s Bachelor of Dental Science (BDSc) program. Informed by Braxton and Hirschy’s (2005) model of student departure for commuter students, goals of the study included investigating students’ experiences as they transitioned into their first year in the program, the influencing factors that contributed to students’ academic performance and subsequent dismissal in their first year of study, and the support mechanisms and resources needed for entering students. Individual interviews were conducted at two separate times with each participant to better understand their challenges and needs as they entered and transitioned through their first year of university. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim to facilitate the thematic coding of emergent themes. Narrative analysis involved an examination of participants’ experiences related to temporality, place, and sociality accomplished through coding, member checking, and researcher memos. Academic under-preparedness, large university class sizes, challenges connecting with faculty, and external influences were identified as factors that contributed to participants’ unsuccessful academic outcome. The social environment for participants was strongly tied to classroom life. Academic learning communities successfully facilitated the establishment of close friendships and feelings of social integration. Disconnection with many faculty members resulted in participants feeling academically not integrated and contributed to lower levels of perceived institutional commitment to student welfare which negatively impacted students’ ability to progress. The existing university student services departments and support resources were under-utilized. Lessons learned from this research have resulted in a greater appreciation for the role that an institution has in supporting its students. Participants’ lived experiences and suggestions have informed recommendations for policy and practice that may assist the BDSc program, the university, and other institutions of higher education in developing more robust, accessible, and visible programming to support student success.
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Thesis advisor: Pidgeon, Michelle
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