College students and institutional fit: A comparative study of student attrition and retention

Date of Completion

January 1998


Education, Administration|Education, Higher




College student attrition and retention have been studied for years, although this topic has received heightened attention recently because of the declining numbers of college aged students. Because of the unique characteristics of each campus, researchers recommend that institutions undertake studies on their own campuses to better understand the dynamics of enrollment.^ Most enrollment studies have been undertaken with information gained from students who continue enrollment. In addition to having better access to students who remain enrolled, this approach provides more positive information. However, research concludes that a fuller understanding results when information is analyzed from students who remain enrolled, as well as those that have left the institution.^ This was a study of both attrition and retention. It utilized information from 201 students that returned to the institution for a second year (Persisters), as well as 118 individuals who did not return (Non-Persisters). This research was conducted at a public university in the Northeast, and involved both quantitative and qualitative data analysis. All participants completed a survey instrument. Additionally, the researcher involved 30 Persisters in three focus groups, and 11 Non-Persisters in individual interviews.^ Hierarchical multiple regression analysis conducted on the survey results indicated that the two groups differed on three variables: self-reported first semester grades (GPA), students' sense of connection to the institution, and their strength of initial commitment to earn a bachelor's degree from the university.^ The results of the focus groups and individual interviews supported the findings of the quantitative research and provided additional information. Persisters initially had a goal of earning a bachelor's degree, and the reasonable cost and convenient location of the institution were the most important reasons they returned for their second year. Some were considering transferring to another school, but were unsure of this possibility, primarily because of cost. Non-Persisters talked about their lack of readiness for college, as well as their uncertainty about their goals, as contributing to their decision to withdraw. While institutions explain withdrawal in negative terms, many Non-Persisters in this study indicated that they viewed their decision to withdraw in positive terms. ^