Exploring Student Success in Austrian Higher Education: The Impact of Prior Education and Pathways into Higher Education

Bianca Thaler

Advisor: Christoph Badelt, Johann Bacher, Barbara Schachermayer-Sporn
Institution: Vienna University of Economics and Business
Start: 2018

This cumulative thesis conducts a comprehensive investigation into the multifaceted concept of student success, exploring its various influencing factors. The contributors to student success can be broadly classified into three categories: individual (e.g., socio-demographic characteristics, prior school education), institutional (e.g., teaching quality), and external factors (e.g., state subsidies, student employment). The report on low student activity (see chapter 2) provides an overview of potential influencing factors, with a focus on Austrian universities, offering insights into the current state of research.

Notably, these factors exhibit intricate interrelationships and heterogeneous effects across different fields of study. For example, individual attributes such as gender or social class manifest divergent impacts on student success across academic disciplines (paper published in ZFHE with Katharina Posch and Franziska Lessky). Another example is the group of students with non-traditional access routes to higher education. These students have lower graduation rates and reduced study hours during the semester compared to those with traditional access routes. However, these differences in students’ time budgets disappear when controlling for factors such as age, employment, and fields of study (paper published in ZFHE with Judith Engleder and Martin Unger).

Furthermore, this thesis particularly emphasizes the role of prior school education on student success. Austria's upper secondary schools encompass two main types: AHS, offering a general academic education, and BHS, focusing on specific subjects while providing both a general higher education entrance qualification and vocational training in various domains such as business, engineering, or agriculture. An essential research question is whether students who attended subject-oriented upper secondary schools have a higher likelihood of graduating from a degree program in related fields of study compared to those with different prior education. Descriptive findings indicate that students completing a BHS and subsequently enrolling in a subject-related degree program tend to have higher success rates than their peers with other educational backgrounds (e.g., other BHS or AHS).

The final paper of this cumulative thesis utilizes register data of Austrian higher education combined with school data and employment data from the social security system. This comprehensive dataset facilitates a detailed analysis of the complex relationship between previous education, fields of study, and various other factors impacting the success of students. Access to this data is facilitated through the Austrian Micro Data Center (AMDC).