“Student Retention Quiz” with Teresa Farnum of Farnum & Associates

Teresa Farnum

Question 1:  What % of students drop out because they flunk out?

The reality is that the vast majority of students who withdraw from college are in good academic standing at the time of withdrawal (estimates range between 75-85%). Thus, most students who leave college do so voluntarily—i.e., they do not “flunk out,” nor are they “forced out” by academic dismissal (Gardiner, 1994; Noel, 1985; Tinto, 1988, 1993; Willingham, 1985). Moreover, among the minority of students who are forced to withdraw from college due to poor grades, poor academic performance can often be attributed to non-academic causes (e.g., familial or emotional issues—many of which can be effectively addressed when an institution has proper mechanisms and services in place), an observation that further contradicts the notion   that students elect to drop out “simply” because of failing GPAs.

Question 2:  The most common predictor of student retention is . . .

The belief that inability to pay for college lies at the root of student retention is another source of institutions’ misconceptions—and inaction. In today’s economy, there is little doubt that finances can be a factor in attrition (e.g., Ishitani & DesJardins, 2002); however, they are often used as a straw man to avoid the more complex and difficult realities of retention etiology. For example, in looking at clients’ institutional data, the most common predictors of attrition generally are not—as many colleges assume— students’ financial status but rather their levels of academic success and social integration. This finding typically holds true across the gamut of students’ socioeconomic brackets, meaning that for student bodies at large, finances are not the primary (or even secondary) consideration in students’ decisions to terminate their enrollment.

Question 3:  Is Attrition a “student problem” or a “campus problem?”

Student persistence depends on both student effort and institutional effort, i.e., it involves a reciprocal relationship between what the campus does for its students and what students do for themselves. Indeed, research reveals that retention is higher at institutions where students: (a) are provided with accurate information and clear lines of communication about institutional purposes, policies, and procedures, (b) are given opportunities to participate in organizational decision-making, and (c) have experiences with administration that support rather than impede their progress (Berger, 2001-2002; Braxton & Brier, 1989; Berger & Braxton, 1998). Indeed, while individual-level characteristics impact the student retention equation to a degree (Arum & Roksa, 2011), the aforementioned studies underscore the importance of institutional qualities in promoting student success.

Taken from “7 Myths about Student Retention” – here is the link to see the entire report – http://www.teresafarnum.com/documents/SevenMythsAboutStudentRetention.pdf

Teresa Farnum is President of Teresa Farnum & Associates.  She has worked with more than 300 campuses to improve student learning, success, and satisfaction in initiatives to increase retention and graduation rates.  Prior to starting her own company in 2004, she led retention services at Noel-Levitz as vice president of its retention division.

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