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Retaining and graduating students has become an issue of widespread concern among today’s colleges and universities. Current research suggests that, on average, four-year colleges and universities in the United States graduate approximately 58% of their students each year (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). For the past forty years, faculty, staff, and administrators have been interested in identifying factors that may increase the number of students who persist and complete a college degree. The present study used a theoretical model of college student persistence and attrition to test background, contextual, and motivational factors that may influence college student persistence and attrition.
Participants in this study were undergraduate men and women (N = 595) who attended a large, diverse, urban, four-year university in Texas. Participants were asked to complete an 84-item online survey that was used to assess the following factors: background characteristics, campus involvement, faculty mentoring, peer group interactions, sense of belonging, utility value, self-efficacy, residential status, enrollment status, transfer status, and financial concern. These factors were used to help predict institutional persistence attitudes, general persistence attitudes, and attrition. Institutional persistence attitudes describe a student’s attitude about persisting at the current institution he or she is attending. General persistence attitudes refer to a student’s overall attitude about persisting in college. Finally, attrition describes the process in which a student fails to reenroll from the fall 2011 semester to the spring 2012 semester.
Results from a series of ANOVAs found that African-American students reported weaker persistence attitudes than White and Hispanic students. Differences in institutional persistence attitudes were also found among students who transferred from another institution and those who did not. More specifically, students who transferred from another institution reported stronger institutional persistence attitudes than those who did not. Interestingly, results of the ANOVAs indicated no differences in institutional persistence attitudes and general persistence attitudes between full-time and part-time students and students who lived on campus and off campus.
A pair of hierarchical multiple linear regressions was conducted to evaluate the extent to which student background characteristics, contextual factors, and motivational factors were able to predict institutional persistence attitudes and general persistence attitudes. Results from these analyses indicated that faculty mentoring, parents’ education level, socioeconomic status, race, campus involvement, peer group interactions, utility value, self-efficacy, and sense of belonging were all significant predictors of institutional persistence attitudes. In the second multiple regression, gender, race, parents’ college expectations, financial concern, utility value and peer group interactions were significantly related to general persistence attitudes.
Finally, a subset of the participants (N = 245) who provided the necessary data was used to conduct a hierarchical logistic regression that evaluated the extent to which student background characteristics, contextual factors, and motivational factors could be used to predict attrition. Results from the first step of the hierarchical logistic regression found that prior performance was negatively related to student attrition. The second step of the logistic regression failed to achieve significance. The findings from this study will be used to help educate students, parents, faculty, staff, and administrators about useful strategies and resources that can be utilized to better support and retain college students.



Retention, Persistence, Attrition, Motivation, Colleges, College students, Graduation factors