Factors Leading to Withdrawal Prior to the Second Year of College

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Virginia Tech

Persistence and withdrawal have been issues throughout the 368 years of higher education in the United States. As higher education shifted from a privilege of the elite to an expectation of the masses, conversations surrounding persistence and withdrawal have become more prevalent (Trow, 1979 as cited in Somers, 1995). Approximately 60% of entering college students leave higher education without obtaining a degree, and most do so during the first two years of college (Porter, 1990 as cited in Hickman, Bartholomae, & McKenry, 2000). Research illustrates that reasons leading to withdrawal in the early stages of the college experience are very different from those that influence withdrawal in the later years (Daubman, Williams, Johnson, & Crump; 1985; Pickering, Calliotte, & McAuliffe, 1992; St. John, 1990; Tinto, 1987).

Models have emerged to explain attrition (Hossler & Galligher, 1987; Bean, 1980; 1985; Tinto, 1975; 1982; 1987; 1993). These models examine the relationship between persistence and background characteristics (Milville & Sedlacek, 1992; Pascarella, Terenzini, & Wolfle, 1986; Pickering et. al 1992), high school profile (Pickering et. al 1992; Richardson & Sullivan, 1994), and the college decision process (Brower, 1997). These factors, however, have been studied in isolation.

The purpose of this study was to examine factors influencing Year 1 to Year 2 (Y1Y2) retention among students. Specific factors included demographic characteristics, high school profile, and the college decision process. Sex, ethnicity, parents' educational level, and concern regarding financial capability were included in demographic characteristics. High school profile encompassed high school GPA, standardized test scores, and time spent during senior year in selected activities. Reasons to attend college and reasons to attend the particular institution at which the study was conducted defined the college decision process factor.

The sample consisted of students at a large public, land-grant institution in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Data from 2,214 first-year students who completed the Annual Freshman Survey (AFS) sponsored by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) were analyzed. All participants completed the AFS in the summer of 2003 at the institution's orientation program. The participants were assigned to one of two groups: those who returned for their second year of college in the fall of 2004 and those who did not.

Results revealed statistically significant differences on 15 out of 51 total chi-square tests conducted on responses to 10 items on the AFS. Those who did not return were more likely to be males and students with B or C averages in high school. In addition, Non-Returners were more likely to have some or major concern regarding their ability to finance their education and felt that low tuition was a very important factor in deciding to attend a particular institution. Non-Returners were more likely to spend five or fewer hours per week studying; six or less, or more than 15 hours per week socializing; and less than an hour or more than 15 hours per week on household and childcare duties during their senior year of high school. Non-Returners were more likely to feel that gaining a general education and preparing for graduate or professional school were not important reasons to attend higher education. This group felt that graduates getting good jobs, being admitted through early action/decision, and a visit to campus were also not important reasons to attend a particular institution.

first-year students, retention, withdrawal