How to reduce student dropouts: introducing the King’s Community Ambassadors Scheme

By Kim Hall, King’s College London |

Starting university for the first time is a daunting experience for many young people. For some, the challenges of the first few weeks are navigated and quickly forgotten. But for others, the transition proves more difficult. Those who struggle to settle into the university environment may eventually withdraw altogether.

Part of the KCLxBIT focus has been on understanding what interventions can help to reduce student dropout rates. One of the interventions we are evaluating is the King’s Community Ambassador scheme (KCA).

The idea for KCA came from MonTRACK, a similar scheme that has been implemented at the University of Monash. The aim of the project is to support the transition and retention of first year undergraduate students by having senior students call them at key times of the year, providing specific messages and assisting with any transition related issues. Through liaisons with our colleagues in Monash, we were able to set up a project of our own.

KCA has a particular focus on peer-to-peer support and is available to first-year students, with the aim of helping them settle into life at university. Students in their second year or above at King’s apply to become a Community Ambassador and those selected make phone calls to first year students at specific pinch points in the academic year to check in with them and ask them questions about their time so far, any problems they may be having, or feedback they have.

The conversations between the Community Ambassadors and the students work in a variety of ways. Firstly, they are an opportunity for students to highlight any issues they are experiencing and to ask any questions they have. The conversation is focused on the individual to ensure that each student is listened to and that their concerns are addressed, creating an experience that is personal to each student. In addition to this, the Community Ambassadors can also relate some of their own experiences to the students they speak to. In some instances, this may help students to normalise their own experiences and create a rapport between the Ambassador and the student. Helping students to connect with others is an important part of the programme with the aim of increasing students’ sense of belonging.

During the conversation, students are also signposted to specific services within the university as well as events, opportunities and recommendations to help them to resolve any issues they may be facing as well as encouraging them to connect with other students.

Reasons for the project

Feedback from the 2016 King’s Student Survey shows there is a good range of services available within King’s, but some students feel that there should be more opportunities for them to express how they feel. The data also suggests that, due to the size of the institution, students are inclined to feel lonely especially if they do not make friends in the first few weeks. As such it was suggested that more could be done by King’s to help students to connect with their peers.

Work done on Undergraduate retention also identified that there are two major withdrawal points for students; Christmas in the first year and the post exam period in the first year,  which highlighted the need to focus on a student’s transition into university.

Measuring the impact

We have been evaluating the impact of the KCA scheme as a randomised controlled trial over two years. In the first year the trial included only one Faculty, which then increased to three for the second year.  First year students in the trial faculties were randomly allocated to receive the KCA phone calls, or not. Those who did not receive the calls were not informed of the scheme to ensure accurate trial results.

We will be evaluating the success of the KCA scheme against student outcomes, including retention and attainment, and look forward to sharing these results in the coming months.

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