Introducing the What I Wish I’d Known Programme

By Maija Koponen, King’s College London | 

A central focus throughout our work on KCLxBIT has been to find ways to apply behavioural insights to enhance the support we provide for widening participation (WP) learners. Throughout planning our interventions we were acutely aware that the kind of disadvantage experienced by WP students is multi-layered and complex, and unlikely to be fixed by simple text message interventions. This led us to develop the What I Wish I’d Known programme.

WIWIK logo
Figure 1: Programme Logo

What I Wish I’d Known is a wrap-around programme of support for first year King’s students who are recipients of the King’s Living Bursary (KLB). The KLB is awarded to students based on an assessment of their household income levels and in this trial recipient status was our indicator of WP status. The programme is designed to enhance the sense of belonging experienced by WP students at King’s and equip them with resources to help them make the most out of their student experience, and succeed academically. During the programme 2nd and 3rd year students share their tips about what they wish they had known in first year with the programme participants.

Students on the programme are also pointed towards extracurricular events or alternative study options and offered opportunities to build their networks, with the aim of supplementing the informal advice they may be missing. The aim of the trial is to test whether such a cohesive offer of support leads to improved attendance, attainment, and general engagement with university.

Rationale for the programme

In the student journey mapping workshops we carried out as part of the first year of the KCLxBIT project, we found evidence that first year widening participation students are less likely to attend their January exams, less likely to apply for some forms of study abroad, and perform, on average, less well in their first sets of exams. The ‘What I Wish I’d Known’ programme was designed based on insights from the literature relating to attainment and attendance for widening participation students and the type of support that may benefit them.

Research from the USA has suggested that the lower sense of belonging at university felt by students from disadvantaged backgrounds may be contributing to their higher rates of dropout and lower attainment.[1] [2] Based on this evidence, social belonging is at the heart of the ‘What I Wish I’d Known’ intervention.

The programme also seeks to address potential differences in the social and cultural capital of students from different backgrounds, which are largely acknowledged to play a role in shaping the experiences of students at university and account for some of the differences experienced by low SES students and their wealthier counterparts.

Cultural capital refers to the general cultural background, knowledge, experiences, disposition, and skills that students use to navigate an educational setting.[3] Research has shown that students from higher SES backgrounds receive more preparation for university life and what to expect than WP students. Many are given advice by parents or family members who have often been to university themselves and are more likely to have been prepared by their schools.[4] In contrast, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have parents that attended university, and on arrival will need to devise their own strategies of engagement[5] which may contribute to the reduced participation with university activity.

Social capital, meanwhile, is defined as social connections and networks that an individual can draw on to aid progression.[6] While children of middle- or upper-class families have a variety of networks available to them, low income individuals and racial minorities often lack the networks to provide the most up-to-date and accurate information about educational opportunities.[7] Given that these groups are also more likely to take up paid employment or remain living at home, it is unsurprising that – in addition to lacking the initial networks – they are also less likely to participate in non-academic activities and spend fewer evenings per week socialising during their time in university.[8]

Students are expected to benefit from the experience of the programme membership itself, as well as the targeted package of support that it entails. We hope that involving students in the What I Wish I’d Known programme will help to level the playing field for WP students.

Analysing the impact

Over the past year, What I Wish I’d Known has been run as a randomised control trial, involving half of the total first year KLB recipient population. In order to ensure a robust trial, students who were not in the trial group were not informed about the programme.

Analysis of the trial outcomes will not distinguish between the impacts of the different programme components, but will look at their overall impact on a range of outcomes for first year WP students. These include data on attainment, re-enrolment and indicators of social belonging at King’s. Full analysis of the impact will be possible after the enrolment period for the 2017-18 academic year. We will be publishing results in this blog when they are available.

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[1] Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331(6023), 1447-1451.

[2] Vincent Tinto, Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition (University of Chicago Press, 1993).

[3] Lamont, M. & Lareau, A. “Cultural capital: allusions, gaps and glissandos in recent theoretical developments,” Sociological Theory, vol. 6, pp. 153–168, 1988.

[4] Forsyth, A and Furlong, A (2003) Losing out? Socioeconomic disadvantage and experience in further and higher education Policy Press/JRF, Bristol

[5] Forsyth, A and Furlong, A (2003) Losing out? Socioeconomic disadvantage and experience in further and higher education Policy Press/JRF, Bristol

[6] Stuart, Mary et al (2009). The Impact of Social Identity and Cultural Capital on Different Ethnic Student Groups at University

[7] Simon, J. & Ainsworth, J. W. (2012). Race and Socioeconomic Status Differences in Study Abroad Participation: The Role of Habitus, Social Networks, and Cultural Capital

[8] Forsyth, A and Furlong, A (2003) Losing out? Socioeconomic disadvantage and experience in further and higher education Policy Press/JRF, Bristol


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