Recruitment and retention of male students under 24 years of age in Access to Higher Education

QAA’s 2021-2022 statistics demonstrate that only 23% of students entering the Access to HE diploma are men. This low representation is presented around the nation across all Access to HE Diplomas. Despite the figures nationally, CAVA has a number of colleges which buck the trend and demonstrate positive recruitment and retention figures of young male students.

In the spring term 2023, our Quality Manager investigated this good practice with three of our colleges - City College Norwich, Bournemouth and Poole College and College of West Anglia - to share with our CAVA community.

The first recommendation all three colleges emphasised was the importance of understanding the motivations of male students and including these in their marketing. In their experience, men respond to clear progression pathways and links to specific career goals. Course leaders observed that men under 24 often have a driving ambition and a deep-seated motivation to progress in their chosen career.

From the conversations it was evident that male students enjoy practical, hands-on activities such as technology-related assignments. Highlighting these during recruitment and focusing on subject-specialist teaching is another way of generating increased interest among male students.

Another suggestion was the importance of adapting delivery for the individual needs of students. For example, male students are more likely to present and have diagnosis of learning differences, as women often mask these issues therefore making it harder to identify and support. All three colleges make an active effort to be aware of different learning needs and integrate this awareness into both their teaching and assessment.

One adaptation which has been brought in, is working with smaller groups allowing for catering to different learning styles, providing individualised support, and fostering a calm, respectful environment. Practical activities relevant to the subject matter were found to be particularly engaging for young male students, along with regular check-ins and sharing sessions to build confidence, encourage group bonding, and address hopes and fears.

The colleges all reported success in adapting their assessment methods to reduce stress for young male students. One example from City College Norwich was their piloted podcast assessments instead of in-person presentations. This allowed students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a more comfortable format.

Another key piece of advice was to introduce individual learning plans and target setting, which provide a clear roadmap for improvement, ensuring male students always had something to work toward. Balancing the challenge level is important, as too much pressure can lead to discontent, while too little challenge may result in disengagement.

It was clear that retaining young male students contains a range of challenges outside of the college’s control. A few of the reasons mentioned include: mental health issues, lack of support at home, financial pressures, and a preference for immediate earnings over long-term study commitments. Understanding these factors and addressing them through targeted support and guidance can contribute to improved retention rates.

The CAVA team would like to thank the course leaders for giving up their time and sharing their insights with us.