The problem of student attrition in higher education: An alternative perspective

Colin Beer, Celeste Lawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Student attrition continues to be a significant and costly challenge for higher education institutions across the globe. In Australia, universities cite the importance of addressing student attrition through strategic statements and policy documents, and expend time and resources on the problem. Despite vast expenditures, they have made little impact on student attrition, which continues to negatively impact reputation and revenue. Using a regional Australian university as a case study, this paper analyses a student exit survey to identify the complex and inter-related array of factors that contribute to student attrition. It was found that attrition would be better conceptualised as a wicked problem, which is one that cannot be strategically addressed using traditional approaches to problem-solving. The practical implications of these findings reinforce that current approaches to attrition are likely to fail. Therefore, the wicked nature of the attrition problem needs to be taken into account when developing strategies or policies within higher education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)773-784
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Further and Higher Education
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Attrition
  • higher education
  • university policy
  • wicked problem

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