Factors Influencing Students' Attrition at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU)

Article excerpt

Introduction

Student attrition rates at higher education institutions are used to measure the internal efficiency of such institutions. In Australia, the government couples funding of higher education institutions with the number of students studying who are not on pre-allocated student places (Richardson & Hinton, 2011). Hence, the university administrations have to work hard to control and reduce their attrition rates.

Many studies have been conducted that examine the reasons for students leaving their colleges or universities. According to Gabb, Milne, and Cao (2006), the attrition rates at Victoria University in Australia have been around 25% for the period 1994-2003. Statistics from UK universities show that drop-out rates during the academic year 2003/2004 are as follows: University of London: 11.0%; University of Leeds: 8.6%; University of Manchester: 8.6%; University of Edinburgh: 22.0%; University of Ulster: 22.0% (Johnston, 2005).

The students' attrition rates at selected U.S. universities are as follows: in the University System of Georgia, the retention rate report for 2011 showed that the fall 2000 cohort, in their one-year retention rate of freshmen, was 59.8% (Mayo, Helms, & Codjoe, 2004). According to the Ohio University Office of Institutional Research (Ohio University, 2011) the rate of drop outs during the first year from the 2010 cohort was 20% and the graduation rate for the 2005 cohort was 75%. In Canada, as Fisher and Engemann (2009) pointed out, Ontario's colleges had an attrition rate of 43% between 1998 and 2003. In the Netherlands, according to Meeuwisse, Severiens, and Born (2010), the withdrawal rates are higher in higher vocational education than in universities (20% versus 10%).

The number of students who withdrew from Kuwait University was 36% in the year 1992/1993. This rate had dropped to 16% by the year 2003/2004. According to the Admission and Registration records at KU, adding some conditions to the admission process (e.g. new entry exams for specializations and revising of high school GPA requirements) helped in achieving this reduction (Admission & Registration Dean, personal communication, May 2012). In the Sultanate of Oman, the students' attrition rate at SQU during the period 1994-2001 was 12.3% (Al Ghanboosi et al., 2009). The above statistics indicate that high student attrition rates are a widespread phenomenon affecting the higher education sector in both developed and developing countries.

Factors Influencing Attrition in the Literature

Since the work of Spady (1970) and Tinto's article in 1975, there has been considerable theoretical work related to students' attrition rates in higher education. This literature debated, critiqued, and discussed the issue in depth. These works took into account economic theories (e.g., Braxton, 2003; Cabrera & Nora, 1994), psychological theories (e.g., Astin, 1984), sociological theories (e.g., Berger, Kuh, & Love, 2000), Bean's model (1980), which examined student withdrawal behavior by comparing it to turnover in work organizations, and, last of all, interaction theories (e.g., Tinto, 1993). Consequently, there is no comprehensive model developed to examine attrition rate that can be used by college and university policy-makers to reduce the attrition phenomenon, which affects many higher education institution populations globally.

However, this study focuses on four factors: socio-demographic, academic, social, and financial. These are common factors that are used by the theorists of the subject (Tinto, Astin, and Bean) and several studies (e.g., Davies & Elias, 2003; Fisher and Engemann, 2009; Gabb et al., 2006; Ishitani, 2003). The researcher of this paper developed a survey questionnaire to examine factors influencing student attrition at SQU. These factors are considered and reviewed in the literature as described below.

Socio-demographic factors

These factors include student sex, high school GPA, parents' education background, university GPA, and financial aid. …