Date of Award

7-15-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Susan Boser, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

D. Alex Heckert, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

John A. Anderson, Ph.D.

Abstract

Nearly a third of first-year, college-going students at public institutions depart before their second year of study. The rate of departure is even greater for minority students. Research on college student departure drew on Durkheim's early sociological studies of suicide, noting that students must perceive themselves to be sufficiently integrated within the institution in order to persist. Institutions front-load retention strategies into the first year, seeking to involve students more in academic pursuits and extra-curricular activities which tie students to the institution and to the goal of graduation. Critics suggested these strategies did not apply as well to minority students who transition into college outside the support of a majority culture. This dissertation questions whether students with insufficient resources also fall outside this framework. The concept of the rational consumer of higher education suggests that students come to their institutions with full access to cost and benefit information, and that all financial decisions are made before a student matriculates. Recent theorists suggest first year departure may be associated with the student's recognition of the actual costs of higher education and his/her inability to meet those costs. This notion provides the foundation for the model for this study's research question: Do financial characteristics predict the departure of first-year, degree-seeking students? This research used a one-institution, case study approach on a mid-sized, rural public university in northwest Pennsylvania to predict departure on two cohorts of first-year, full-time, first-time-in-college, baccalaureate-seeking students. Logistic regression was applied to secondary data gathered from the cohort population of these first-year students in two successive years. The results of this study were consistently significant for room and board increasing persistence, confirming Astin's theory of student involvement. Although the effects differed from year to year, there were also significant results correlating higher tuition and fees and FAFSA submission dates with predicted increases in departure. These were believed to be related to the non-resident tuition policy and financial aid processes in effect at that time. The use of logistic regression on existing secondary data combined with awareness of current financial policy changes suggests a promising strategy for improving first-year retention.

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