Research Paper: Student Retention and Attrition

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Student Retention and Attrition Student Retention

Student retention is an important area of concern for modern educational theory and praxis and can be described as, "...the area of research concerned with determining the forces that shape student persistence in institutions of higher education" (Student Retention). Retention rates are usually measured by "…the percentage of freshmen that re-enroll the next academic year as sophomores"(Arnold, 1999).

The primary reason that retention rates, along with attrition rates, are important is that retention rates are perceived not only in an economic sense but also as indicators of academic quality and student success (Arnold, 1999). This area of research also includes the many variables and problems that are involved in the often complex analysis of the factors affecting retention and attrition at universities and colleges.

What also has to be taken into consideration is that there are many types or forms of student attrition. This could include those students who 'drop out' as well as those who transfer to other educational institutions for various reasons; and those who do not fail but simply withdraw from the university to college for a wide-range of reasons.

What constitutes the central problematic of student retention and attrition is summarized by the following assessment of the situation. Student retention is a priority concern among many educators and institutions. It is described as being,

...now a matter of economic survival. The dwindling cohort of traditionally-aged college students has triggered a keen competition among colleges for enrollments; there is no longer a steady stream of entering students to take the place of those who drop out, and dropouts simply represent lost students and lost revenue.

(Assessing the Student Attrition Problem. ERIC Digest. ( 1984)

Assessments of the seriousness of this problem have increased over the past two decades. As one study notes;

Concern about retention and attrition rates in higher education have increased over the years. While the statistics remain fairly constant, approximately 50% of the freshmen enrolled in colleges and universities drop out before completing their programs. Efforts to identify and treat potential dropouts have grown considerably.

(Retention-Attrition in the Nineties. ERIC Digest)

This has meant that it has become increasingly important to identify the reasons for this attrition and those factors which influence and motivate student retention. There is a continuing need to "...determine the reasons why he or she might withdraw, and to see if procedures or programs could be established to help reduce those numbers that are going back out the open door" (Rounds, 1984, p. 1).

2. Patterns of Retention and Attrition

Figure 1.

( Source: http://academicmaps.blogspot.com/2009/12/7-myths-and-5-realities-of-retention.html)

A relatively conservative study of attrition and retention found that during the 1993 academic year "...over 800,000 entering freshmen withdrew from post-secondary education institutions in the United States prior to their second year "(Assessing the Student Attrition Problem). In terms of departing students it was found that, "…41 of every 100 entrants will depart the higher educational system without earning a college degree" and that "Most (three-quarters) of them will leave school in the first two years of college, the greatest proportion occurring in the first year of college" (Tinto, 1987, p. 21).

These figures therefore call for an in-depth assessment of the reasons and causes of student attrition, as well as the factors that could contribute to retention. This has led to a number of longitudinal studies and to the categorization of various types or patterns of attrition that most commonly occur. This refers to 'positive', 'neutral' and 'negative' attrition.

Briefly, positive attrition refers to "...students who dropped out after meeting their objectives or who transferred to another institution" (Assessing the Student Attrition Problem). This accounts for approximately twenty one percent of students. (Assessing the Student Attrition Problem). Neutral forms of attrition are described as, "students who left because of a job conflict or because of a scheduling conflict with another school. These reasons, which imply neither success nor failure" and this is estimated at about 34% (Assessing the Student Attrition Problem). Of concern to many administrators and educationists is the negative attrition pattern, which includes those students who"…"were unprepared for classwork to begin with or who were not sufficiently motivated to complete their course of studies"(Assessing the Student Attrition Problem). Negative Attrition accounted for about 16% of the attrition among vocational students and for 19% of the attrition among non-vocational students (Assessing the Student Attrition Problem).

This general overview should also take into account other demographics, such as gender and ethnicity.

2.1. Female Students

A study conducted by the Michigan Center for Career and Technical Education (MCCTE) at Michigan State University resulted in the following statistics with regard to female students; "…of the 1,397 students enrolled in developmental courses between 1994 and 1998, 73% were female, 94% were white, and the mean age was 31; & #8230; female students tended to receive a higher percentage of satisfactory grades than males & #8230;" (Kielbaso et al. 2004).

There are a number of factors to consider in this regard. Firstly, the generally better level of retention among female student was linked to better motivation and levels of achievement. However, it must be emphasized that these assumptions were difficult to measure and varied radically between institutions.

Many of the attrition and retention factors found in female students were attributable to all students. Attrition was found to be linked to aspects such as economic factors, social alienation and low self-perceptions. For example, at one university female students gave the following reasons for leaving during or after the first year.

I chose to transfer for two reasons," she said. "One, because I was switching my major from secondary education and Spanish to fashion design at a different school. And two, because I was unhappy & #8230; I just sat in my dorm and was bored from Friday night to Monday morning.

(Landgraf, 2010)

And; "The student transferred because she felt her options within the university were limited" Landgraf E. ( 2010).

One factor that has been found to be significant in terms of female retention rates has been linked to the gender of faculty members. As a study in this regard points out,

There is a positive relationship between retention of female students and the percentage of their science and mathematics classes taught by female faculty. Also faculty gender has a greater impact on female students when their classes have few female students.

(Robst, Keil and Russo, 1998)

2.2. Black and Hispanic students

A number of studies state that "...African-American students complete college at one of the lowest rates of any student groups" (Gilliam and Kritsonis, 2006). Another study from the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (CSRDE) indicates that "… the overall graduation rate of African-Americans after six years is 38% compared to 56% for white students"(Gilliam and Kritsonis, 2006). It should also be noted that the same study estimates that American colleges and universities lose approximately 1 billion dollars a year from first- year attrition.

A study by the Rand Corporation states that;

White students are much more likely to complete a bachelor's degree than Hispanic students (and less likely to drop out); Hispanic students are marginally more likely to complete a bachelor's degree than African-American students (with a wider advantage in drop-out rate).

(van Stolk et al. 2007)

One of the reasons put forward for these differences is that many students are inadequately prepared for tertiary education. This unpreparedness has, according to some studies, an ethnic and racial bias. This is evident in a study entitled, National Impact: The Effects of Mentorship on the Level of Retention for African-American Freshman Students Attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities ( 2006).

National statistics reveals that up to 40% of students are inadequately prepared for college & #8230; of these students, about 40% of white students and 70% of African-American students drop out of college because of the lack of preparation, or because of a lack of academic and/or social support.

(Gilliam and Kritsonis, 2006).

This view is supported by other studies; for example, Nettles, Thoeny, and Gosman (1986) state that black students typically have "…significantly lower levels of pre-college preparation than white students, are less academically integrated, have less satisfaction with their universities, experience more interfering problems, and have less well-developed study habits" than their white peers (p. 309).This study also noted the different perceptions of university and what education means to different ethnic groups; including the view that university is seen by many African-Americans more as a means of employment rather than a place for furthering personal education and knowledge which might have an effect on motivational levels and retention rates. As one report states; "Smitherman and Carr (1981) found that black students emphasized the short-term goal of quick entry into the job market more than their white counterparts" (Arnold, 1999).

The above also points to another factor and variable in the estimation of the causes of attrition; namely lack of academic and social support. Other reasons given for the problems with retention among African- American and Hispanic students include… [END OF PREVIEW]

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