Term Paper: College Student Development

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College Student Development: Bridging the Gap Between Recruitment and Retention

The transition from high school to college can be a rocky one for many young learners, and the unacceptably high attrition rate for newly enrolled college students in the United States is testament to this. Some student development initiatives, though, have been shown to help ease this transition and to provide college students with the support and resources they need to survive the transition and succeed in their academic endeavors. To this end, this paper provides a discussion of how to bridge the gap between recruitment and retention, including strategies and theories used by today's college student services professionals to make this transition for their students seamless. An examination of how educators can effectively pass the baton of responsibility is followed by a summary of the research in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Background and Overview.

Given the importance of completing a college education in today's society, it is not surprising that there has been an increasing amount of attention paid to college student development issues in recent years (Tanaka, 2002; Deberard, Julka, & Spielmans, 2004). Indeed, there is much to be considered when entering college for the first time, but many young learners may not recognize all that is involved, or the implications of their decisions along the way. For example, according to Feldman (2005), "Every day, students make decisions that affect their ability to complete a degree. They weigh some of these choices carefully, such as which college to attend. Yet they underestimate the impact of many other choices, such as whether to drop a course or accept more hours at work, not understanding the cumulative effect these decisions might have on their likelihood of completing a degree" (p. 3). In fact, educators are acutely aware that college coursework requires a level of responsibility and maturity that some young learners may not yet have acquired, and the potential for failure is high for these students if they are not providing with the support services they need at this crucial juncture in their academic careers. For instance, Deberard and his colleagues report that:

The freshman year represents a stressful transition for college students. Despite a multitude of social, academic, and emotional stressors, most college students successfully cope with a complex new life role and achieve academic success. Other students are less able to successfully manage this transition and decide to leave higher education during or at the end of their freshman year. It is estimated that 40% of college students will leave higher education without getting a degree with 75% percent of such students leaving within their first two years of college. Freshman class attrition rates are typically greater than any other academic year and are commonly as high as 20-30%. (2004, p. 66)

The implications for students who fail to complete their first year of college are profound. According to Deberard and his associates, "Each student that leaves before degree completion costs the college or university thousands of dollars in unrealized tuition, fees, and alumni contributions. The decision to leave college is also frequently economically deleterious to the college dropout, whose decision to leave often leaves him or her in a position to earn much less over a lifetime of work" (p. 67). Furthermore, in spite of these adverse consequences for both universities and students, these authors report that attrition rates have not changed significantly over the past few decades (Deberard et al., 2004). "This fact has provided an impetus to understand risk factors for college student attrition," they advise, and add that, "If such risk factors can be identified, then intervention programs can be designed to increase retention rates" (Deberard et al., 2004, p. 67). In this regard, the studies to date have found a consistent correlation between college academic achievement and retention, with higher performing students persisting in their studies to a greater degree than their lower achieving cohorts (Deberard et al., 2004). Furthermore, Crosling and Webb (2002) point out that, "Not only are there now many more students in higher education, but they come from far more diverse backgrounds" (p. 1). Therefore, helping young college students succeed has become even more challenging and complicated than in years past, but there have been some initiatives that have been found to be effective for this purpose, and these are discussed further below.

Bridging the Gap between Recruitment and Retention.

It is one thing to successfully recruit new learners to undergo "the college experience," but it is another thing entirely to ensure that they stay long enough to complete a degree. According to Hoyt (1999), there are a number of factors that can affect a freshman college student's decision to continue his or her studies beyond the first year. For example, some studies have suggested that:

A student's declaration of a college major or career relates to retention;

Student feelings of alienation has been shown to be greater in large universities than in smaller educational institutions;

Institutional communication, fairness in policy and decision-making, and participation have been shown to be positively related to social integration with significant indirect effects on attrition rates; and,

Finally, some studies have posited that the quality of a student's experience in the classroom or the classroom environment was central to student retention (Ritschel 1995; Tinto 1997, cited in Hoyt, 1999, p. 51).

According to a study of college student attrition by Deneui (2003), incoming freshman possess little or no connections to the school and therefore have little or no sense of community; students who participated less frequently in campus-based activities and organizations were found to have the greatest amounts of decrease in their psychological sense of community during the academic year.

Strategies and Theories.

Citing Tinto's original theory of "social and academic integration" (1975), Tanaka (2002) reports that student development professionals have long sought appropriate models to help them better understand what the transition experience was like for freshmen and how they could help them overcome the typical constraints and challenges that they confronted. Indeed, researchers have increasingly attempted to explain why some students succeed and others drop out of college. According to Tanaka, by "integration," Tinto meant the "extent to which students adapted themselves to the culture of the institution. Tinto's theory can also be applied to campuses with ethnically diverse students. Not only can students improve their success in college through greater personal involvement, but the institution can take steps to enhance a student's 'talent development.' These contemporary strategies and theories share some commonalities, including:

An interest in measuring the impact of student participation in the institution; and, tendency not to examine the underlying cultures of that institution (often Western European, straight, upper middle class, and male); however, in times of fragmentation linked to rapidly changing student racial demographics and heightened awareness of difference based on race, gender, and sexual orientation, a culturally neutral perspective may overlook differential impacts from participation by diverse groups and fall short of providing the data policymakers will need to foster meaning and harmony across groups (Tanaka, 2002).

Further complicating matters for student development professionals is the fact that in recent years, even the purpose of an education has changed in fundamental ways in the United States, and there are some powerful forces at play that can combine to adversely affect almost any college freshman today. Not only are there academic challenges involved, there are issues of personal discipline and time management required that may not occur to young learners. Moreover, the college freshman classroom in many American classrooms today is vastly different that those of just a few years ago. In this regard, Denzine and Kowalksi (2002) report that, "The notion that the environment has a powerful effect on college student development remains a major theoretical proposition among theorists and practitioners in higher education. The critical issue in understanding the effects of any educational environment is how members perceive and evaluate them" (p. 14). Other educators have suggested that there are some steps that can be followed to help in this perception and evaluation. For example, according to Tanaka (2002), "The key to understanding power in higher education research will come from acknowledging the wider historical context of transnationalism that impacts today's undergraduate experience. With recent trends in immigration, the infusion of students of color into campuses underscores the inadequacy of doing research from a one-culture view of history" (p. 264).

According to the student development theory posited by Evans, Forney, and Guido-Dibrito (1998), student development takes place in a sequential fashion along seven stages or vectors during the college experience. Likewise, drawing on Lewin's (1936) interactionist paradigm and Erickson's (1950) stages of psychosocial development, Chickering's (1969) theory of college student development maintains that if the right combination of institutional supports is provided on campus and if students are influenced or impacted by these services students will be more likely to complete the following tasks in college:

Develop competence;

Manage emotions;

Move through autonomy toward interdependence;

Develop mature interpersonal relationships;

Establish identity;

Develop purpose; and,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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