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Evaluation & Terminology

The Evaluators' Collective / Evaluation  / Evaluation & Terminology

Evaluation & Terminology

Evaluation and terminology – are we speaking the same language!

When you start to think about evaluation and how to evaluate a program or service, it starts with a conversation. As an experienced evaluator and author, I am well aware that the language and terminology we use can be confusing. When I first started at Queensland University of Technology we were having a data conversation and I was able to count four different meanings for attrition.

For example, from the Australian government’s perspective attrition in higher education is calculated after the census data (the point in which the student enrols and pays for the unit of study). For the students enrolled at a university last year at census date, compare this list to those enrolled at census data this year. There are four possible ways to follow students through their progress. If the student:

  1. Ex-University Attrition: Left the university this is deemed attrition and externally reports negatively for the university.
  2. Broad Field of Education Attrition: Stayed at the university and transferred to another program of study in a different broad field of education, this is deemed attrition for the university. Even though the university may view this as retention as the student remains in the same faculty and university. Colloquially, some academics term this as ‘good attrition’, as in not lost to the university.
  3. Retained or continuing students: Stayed at the university and is still enrolled at the university in the same field of education, they are retained and deemed continuing students. The student is able to transfer across programs of study as long as they are within the same field of education.
  4. Graduating students: Graduated from the program of student and externally reports positively for the university. This is deemed a successful outcome for both the government, university and the student.

When holding a conversation at a university about student progression, it makes things easier to follow if we clearly label which type of student group we are talking about. Maybe you need to develop a data dictionary or a glossary of terminology to help your conversations. The University of Newcastle invested a lot of time developing there Glossary of terminology:


Lyn Alderman