Dissertations

Date of Award

5-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Department

Educational Leadership

Advisor

Dr. Tony Finley

Abstract

The purpose of this qualitative multi-case study was to determine how two universities in the state of Arkansas with differing student demographics approach the problem of student retention in order to increase their graduation rates. College student retention has long been a concern in the United States and in the state of Arkansas. Providing a well-educated workforce is the only way either can thrive in the future knowledge-based economy. The research of Astin (1993), Tinto (1993, 1999, 2005, 2006), Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, Whitt & Associates (2005), Pascarella & Terenzini (2005), and others has shown that students choose to discontinue their postsecondary studies for many reasons over which institutions have little control. Even high admission standards cannot guarantee that the students matriculated will remain until they attain their degrees. Institutions do, however, have a great deal of control over a student’s quality of experience while attending the institution. This quality of experience has been shown to increase student satisfaction, and as a result, student persistence and graduation rates.

Data used for this study included information from focus groups moderated by the researcher, individual interviews with members of the institutional retention teams, and institutional information found at the universities and on the university websites. Focus group interviews were held on both campuses, from which the data were collected and analyzed for emerging themes. The focus groups used for this study were made up of institutional staff members directly involved with student retention on their respective campuses. Individual phone and face-to-face interviews were also used to collect data and to clarify information that had been collected. The programs, practices, and procedures of both university’s retention efforts were first analyzed according to an analysis checklist of institutional best practices as determined by research. Then the two retention programs were compared using a cross-case analysis. Findings show that both universities use at least some of the strategies recommended by present research to increase student retention and graduation rates to their advantage.

This qualitative study provides a description of both retention programs, including how and why the programs were begun, what major events occurred during the program building process, what barriers to the process were encountered, and where both programs are now in their move toward greater student retention. This study also describes how the two universities have attempted to put assessments in place to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of their student retention efforts.

The research findings indicate that many factors influence the student retention efforts of institutions of higher learning, not the least of which is student demographics. These unique student demographics were at the heart of both retention programs, and while some problems were easily and quickly addressed, other problems were identified as more difficult to address due to time, staffing, and funding issues. One university’s program was more systematic in its approach to retention, while the other’s program was only beginning to consider a systemized approach to retention. Despite the difficulties, however, both universities expressed determination to continue and expand their student retention efforts.

The descriptions of the two retention programs included in this study may provide other universities with ideas to help them expand their own student retention programs. Educational researchers may use the findings of this study as the basis for future qualitative or quantitative research to add to the existing knowledge base concerning college student retention.

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