First Year Student Failure mostly caused by migration from homes to Student Cities


After twelve years of basic education schooling, about 829 197 learners set for their National Senior Certificate (NSC) through the various examining authorities in South Africa. After the announcement of the IEB and DBE matric results, those who have successfully passed their National Senior Certificate will be faced with the daunting task of migrating from their home towns and provinces to student cities of their choice to pursue their tertiary education.

Considering that most of the students have spent their primary and secondary education within their neighbourhoods, this migration is a life-changing experience for the majority of first generation university first year students.

According to the 2014 statistics, about 168 356 first years enrolled at the 26 universities across the nine provinces in South Africa. The newly established Sol Plaatjie University and Mpumalanga University had a meagre of 120 and 140 first year students respectively, whilst the University of South Africa enrolled 34 897 first year students, with Tshwane University of Technology registering 13,901 first time students.

In terms of provinces in the same year, the Gauteng Province attracted almost 47% (79 802) of the total first year students enrolled at public universities, with the Western Cape being the second study destination with 20 742 first year students. Both the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu Natal Provinces attracted 15 973 and 15 363 first year students respectively, while the Free State Province had 9 475 and the North West Province, 9 029. The rest of the first year students enrolled in the Limpopo Province (9 547), Northern Cape Province (140) and Mpumalanga Province (124).

The prospect for success in the transitional year for most first time students depends largely on the combined choice of a great university and university town. With many universities having a limited capacity of on-campus student accommodation, many first year students have to grapple with the challenges of living off-campus in a foreign village, town or city and being a commuter student. It is often the latter experience that contributes to almost 40% of first years, failing or dropping out in their first year, according to a research conducted by the Human Science and Research Council in 2007.

In my last 20 years as a Student Affairs professional, nothing worried me more than the knowledge that after the sheer resilience of a twelve year journey from Grade 1 to Grade 12, that even the brightest of first year students would face the prospect of failing or even worse, dropping out of university (or college) in their first year. Mainly due to the lack of school or parental counsel to guide the learner in making informed choices for their tertiary education, or the learner himself or herself making uninformed choices based on little information or peer pressure. What then are the factors to be considered – by both parents and first years – when making these life-changing choices towards your next study destination?

Choosing the right career path is important for students including going through professional career counselling to determine career choices. If a student did not apply for the career of choice in time, they would rather take a gap year and enrol for the career that is part of their passion, than to take any available study space offered. Failing while doing a course out of expediency will disadvantage a learner’s academic record and spoil the prospect of financial aid in the future. Most of the first year students fail their first year studies simply because of a wrong career choice. Once you a learner has selected the right career path, they should thrive hard to master their academic studies and be the best student that they can be. After all, a learner’s studies are the core reason for being at college or university.

Students should study in their town or province. Many learners are fortunate to be living in a college or university town where they can study even without leaving the comfort of their homes. Commuting to college or university using own or public transport is most of the time more affordable than living in a private student accommodation. Food security is often guaranteed when living at home, and provides for a more disposable income from parents or bursar for quality of life. The option of living and studying under parental guidance also limits deviant behaviour and social distractions that might derail student life, especially in the first year.

Studying out of town or province should really be the last option if students do not live within a college or university town. Even so, they would rather choose an alternative college or university not far from home town due to the high cost of distant travel. If learners are not fortunate to live on campus, they should conduct thorough research and make informed choices about the private accommodation arrangements and the area they will live in within the college or university town. They should also make a choice about the student city they wish to study and live in, and whether it is affordable, safe and liveable. Ease of travel and access to facilities such as WIFI and libraries might impact on potential success of a student.

Learners should be involved, be engaged with extra-curricular activities that they were involved with before college or university. Whether be it sport or arts, cultural or spiritual activities, they should continue to be involved with outside-the-classroom activities and programs as part of their social life. Extra-curricular activities are part of the total educational experience and provide for an opportunity to develop skills and competencies such as communication, leadership and wellness.

Adopting a quality and healthy lifestyle is one of the choices that will accelerate learner’s success in the minimum required time. Many student cities provide for a vibrant life of leisure and night life that may lead to having an easy access to drugs and alcohol. On the other hand, there are safer spaces of leisure that provide healthy recreation through movies, theatre and sport activities that are consistent with being a student. Many colleges and universities have a structured Outside the Classroom Curriculum (OCC) that seeks to guide students towards living a balanced lifestyle that will be part of the career preparation future employment prospects.

To be a successful student, learners need to be connected to student learning communities that will form part of their academic and social life during studies. A learning community is a group of people who share common academic goals and attitudes. There are four key factors that define a sense of community, which comprise, membership, influence, fulfillment of individual’s needs and shared events and emotional connections.

To have a functional learning community participants of learning community must feel some sense of loyalty and belonging to the group (membership) that drive their desire to keep working and helping others, also the things that the participants do must affect what happens in the community, that means, an active and not just a reactive performance (influence). Besides a learning community must give the chance to the participants to meet particular needs (fulfillment) by expressing personal opinions, asking for help or specific information and share stories of events with particular issue included (emotional connections) emotional experiences.