Higher Education

, Volume 60, Issue 3, pp 301–319 | Cite as

Teacher effects on student attrition and performance in mass-market tertiary education

  • Gigi Foster


Tertiary education is now accessible even to those who appear unlikely ex ante to succeed in jobs requiring post-high school education. Institutions that have broadened access to their programs must rely on two things to protect the quality of the degrees they award: selection mechanisms operating during students’ tenure, and effective teaching. This paper explores the relative strength of these two forces in a broad-spectrum, first-year undergraduate course. Using detailed data from the University of South Australia on student background, tutors, performance, and enrollment across 15 weeks in a first-year core course, I explore the extent to which teachers impact upon the success of their students directly (through effective teaching) and indirectly (through facilitating the dropping out of more poorly-prepared students). Results indicate that teachers vary widely in their influence on attrition and performance, and that none is robustly effective in facilitating both the disproportionate out-selection of students with poor initial preparation, and the disproportionate achievement of this group. Performance at neither of these tasks is predictable based on teachers’ formal university affiliation.


Tutors Teacher quality Attrition Retention Value-added Business education 



I acknowledge the generosity of Ken Adams in allowing access to the data used in this paper, and the contributions of Martin Shanahan and Erik Meyer in designing assessment and constructing key measures used in this paper on the basis of selected assessment items. Alan Muscardin, Matthew Giro, and Sam Trezise provided valuable research assistance. All viewpoints and errors contained within are solely my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EconomicsUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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