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  • Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action by Vincent Tinto
  • Sosanya Jones
Vincent Tinto. Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. 228 pp. Cloth: $35.00. ISBN: 978-0-2268-0452-1.

Higher education’s expert on student retention, Vincent Tinto, returns with a significant addendum to his highly lauded and widely cited Leaving College. Tinto’s new book, Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action, offers a critical note to fans of his previous work and an important declaration to institutional leaders: Simply knowing what makes students leave college is not enough to make them stay.

This is Tinto’s call for institutional action and is, in many ways, a critique of institutional complacency and piecemeal intervention. Tinto asks institutions to reflect seriously about how they approach student retention by pointing out a hard truth—in the 20-plus years since his theory on student attrition was first introduced, higher education has not made significant strides in improving student retention overall (p. 4).

Despite this sobering fact, the tone of the book is not harshly critical or self-righteous. Tinto acknowledges the difficulty of retaining students who can and often do exercise their agency to make choices about whether they will persist. Still Tinto asserts that institutions should be held accountable for creating environments that make students not only want to stay but also to excel.

Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action is not a best-practices book. In an age of best-practice rulebooks for higher education leaders, this book offers something different—a framework for institutional action to improve student retention. Tinto stresses there is no definitive “one size fits all” master plan. One of the book’s most important themes is the need for more needs assessment and thoughtful reflection before enacting any student retention intervention. As Tinto points out: “The number of retention programs matters less than where the programs are situated in the educational life of the institution and how they are organized and aligned one to another. Merely investing in retention programs does not mean taking student retention seriously” (p. 116). [End Page 422]

Tinto devotes the first five chapters of the book’s total seven chapters to the four features he considers essential for any institutional plan to improve student retention. Chapter 1 makes a compelling argument for why a framework for institutional action is needed. Tinto argues that student retention has not improved in higher education because there is a vast gap between knowing why students leave and addressing the problem effectively. To successfully develop, implement, sustain, and expand practical interventions that address student attrition, institutions have to take a step back and consider a more comprehensive and holistic approach. He then provides an outline of his framework and the layout for the book, stressing that he is offering, not a prescriptive cure-all, but rather a guide that institutions can use to develop in their strategic planning.

In Chapters 2–5, Tinto gives the reader an in-depth discussion about each of the areas he considers essential for effective institutional action. Each chapter includes data supporting why the area is significant, how it impacts student retention, and how it can be applied practically through a variety of interventions. The book is refreshing in that it not only delves into the most popular and celebrated interventions such as learning communities and first-year seminars, but it also highlights less-recognized interventions such as supplemental instruction, cooperative learning, and peer mentoring.

Particularly helpful are the case study examples given at the end of each chapter. Tinto illustrates theory in practice with examples of a variety of interventions at different types of institutions. Each chapter also includes caveats, notes on the limitations of applicability and use, and a closing summary about how classroom and teaching interventions should be considered when thinking of a particular area.

In fact, what distinguishes Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action from other books on student retention is its focus on classroom and teaching interventions. Until recently, the area of teaching and learning in higher education has been veiled in mystery, largely disconnected from the concept of retention theory and interventions. Now that teaching and learning have begun to...


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pp. 422-423
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