Developing a Freshman Orientation Survey to Improve Student Retention within a College

Article excerpt

With growing concerns over higher education accountability and diminishing resources, student retention rates and the reasons why students remain at a post-secondary institution continue to persist. Since the 1960s, researchers have examined cognitive and non-cognitive factors that impact whether or not students stay at a particular post-secondary institution until graduation. The purpose of this study was to develop the Freshman Orientation Survey for the College of Education and Health Professions to improve student retention. Using the constructs, which were presented in peer-reviewed literature along with a peer-review process within the College, a survey instrument was developed to examine pre-college enrollment characteristics for a College within a four-year state university in the Southeastern United States. The instrument was piloted with alumni from the College, and the psychometric properties of the instrument were determined. The survey was found to be an internally consistent measure, and it was found to have convergent validity and discriminate validity.

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A national movement exists to "increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60% by 2025" (Lumina Foundation for Education, 2009, p. 2). After analyzing the freshman cohort data from 2003 through 2009, which was gathered from Institutional Research, one out of every three students, who designated a major within the College, were lost to attrition every year in an exponential decay model, and the College graduated only one quarter of the initial cohort (Brown, 2011). These findings revealed that the College is well below the 60% targeted level established by the Lumina Foundation (Lumina Foundation for Education, 2009). In addition, the Higher Education Act may use graduate rates to determine institutional effectiveness (Fike & Fike, 2008). According to Tinto (2006), the process of student persistence at a four-year institution differs from the process at a large scale university, where the majority of the research in this area has occurred. Thus, it is essential to examine student retention rates within the College and the various factors that might contribute to those student retention rates.

With diminishing resources, there has been an emphasis placed on student retention at the post-secondary level. Many states are translating this emphasis into accountability measures for higher education (Tinto, 2006). When examining student retention, a common practice is to predict student retention status or cumulative grade average, which typically involves cognitive and noncognitive factors. With cognitive factors, there exists an overwhelming amount of empirical studies that have found high school grade point averages and standardized aptitude scores (Harackiewicz, Barron, Tauer, & Elliott, 2002; Murtaugh, Bums, & Schuster, 1999; Willingham, Lewis, Morgan, & Ramist, 1990) were significant predictors of academic success at the post-secondary level. Spady (1971) also found that high school experiences were a significant predictor of grade performance with university undergraduate students. Likewise, Astin, Korn, and Green (1987) conducted a study using the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California at Los Angeles along with student retention follow-up data. Astin and his colleagues found that high school grade point average and standardized admission test scores were the strongest two predictors of student retention. For students who entered college with an "A" (3.50 to 4.00) grade point average, they were seven times more likely to graduate within 4 years compared to those students who entered with a "C" (1.50 to 2.50). For those students with high standardized test scores, they were six times as likely to graduate within 4 years compared to those students with low test scores. In a more recent study, Tross, Harper, Osher, and Kneidinger (2000) found similar findings. …