- College Student Retention: Formula for Student Success
It is an understatement to suggest that student retention in higher education is an important and relevant topic of inquiry. Pascarella and Terenzini's second volume How College Affects Students (2005) cites over 2,600 studies on the subject. Tinto's theory alone has been cited over 775 times (Braxton, Hirschy, & McClendon, 2004). There is a disconnect, however, between theoretical models of student retention and practical guidelines to inform institutional action. The stated purpose of this volume is to address the gap that exists between what researchers know about the nature of student retention and what practitioners need to know.
Joseph Berger and Susan Lyon provide a comprehensive historical account of retention studies in Chapter 1 from a time of no concern about theoretically-informed research to the establishment of a journal on retention, College Student Retention: Research, Theory, and Practice. Chapter 2 by Thomas Mortenson examines various measures of persistence and cautions readers that variable definitions can impact data analyses and findings. This is a [End Page 360] very relevant point as higher education administrators may make adjustments to more accurately reflect institutional retention, yet at the same time they may be tempted to focus on definitions that present the institution in a favorable light.
In chapter 3, John Braxton and Amy Hirschy consider theoretical models of student retention and provide a revision to Tinto's model as it relates to students at residential and commuter campuses. Linda Serra Hagedorn proposes a new student retention formula in chapter 4 called "pure institutional persistence" (p. 101) to account for part-time students, continuing students, transfer students, advanced enrollment students, and students who began college at times other than fall term.
John Braxton and Stephanie Lee refer in chapter 5 to reliable knowledge as a necessary component to develop and implement institutional retention policies and programs. The authors conduct a meta-analysis of studies which address one or more of the thirteen propositions in Tinto's model. This approach is designed to measure the consistency of propositional test results when applied to students at both residential and commuter campuses. Amaury Nora, Elizabeth Barlow, and Gloria Crisp establish in Chapter 6 that further research is needed for persistence beyond the first year of college. Their argument is well crafted and their institutional approach is sound. Additionally, as they state, further studies at the national level are needed.
Alberto Cabrera, Kurt Burkum, and Steven La Nasa's Chapter 7 on pathways to a four-year degree examines socioeconomic status, postsecondary attendance, and degree completion. In Chapter 8, John Bean balances theory, application, and outcomes in developing nine themes of college student retention. This chapter is also the book's turning point from adaptations and critical analyses of Tinto's model to setting the stage for retention models to maximize institutional effectiveness. For example, proceeding from the relevance of social connectedness to retention, Bean suggests that "housing arrangements, placement in sets of classes with the same students, and special academic, athletic, and interest groups can aid in developing social attachment to the school" (p. 229).
In Chapter 9, Alexander Astin and Leticia Oseguera assess recent empirical studies of degree completion in light of their predictive nature and institutional control regarding undergraduate degree completion. In his chapter on finances and retention, John Schuh presents a conceptual framework in Chapter 10 that could be applied to any institution. His delineation of immediate direct and indirect institutional costs is sound, but his conclusions regarding long-term institutional costs of attrition are, as he stated, open to debate. For example, Schuh proposes that time faculty spend outside of the classroom with students who eventually do not persist takes away from time that could be spent on students who do persist or on other faculty activities.
Alan Seidman outlines his retention formula for student success in the book's final section, Chapter 11. Although this formula is based on the work of Tinto, it also identifies a course of action to follow. Seidman...