Academic journal article Community College Review

ERIC Review: Attrition Research at Community Colleges

Academic journal article Community College Review

ERIC Review: Attrition Research at Community Colleges

Article excerpt

The problem of student attrition in community colleges has become more important as calls for accountability in the use of public resources intensify. In addition, amid a fiscal environment of decreasing state funding, student retention has become a matter of economic survival for some colleges. Whether student attrition is viewed as an institutional effectiveness issue, a financial issue, or an enrollment management issue, it continues to be a challenge for community colleges. Many institutions' primary strategy for reducing attrition is the early identification of students likely to drop out and the development and implementation of intervention services for those students. Despite these efforts to reduce attrition, however, it largely remains an unsolved problem for community colleges. A more in-depth understanding of the process and those participating in it is necessary to develop initiatives that can further reduce student attrition.

This ERIC review will discuss the scope and significance of community college student attrition. It will begin with an examination of the theoretical models that explain and attempt to predict the phenomenon and review common variables associated with student attrition that have been widely studied by researchers. In addition, this review will summarize the research literature on student enrollment and registration behaviors as predictors of attrition. These types of studies that are now beginning to receive attention have the potential to add to our understanding of and ability to predict student attrition. Finally, this review will suggest areas that researchers should study in the future and discuss the opportunities for research that will yield benefits for practitioners in the field.

Throughout this review, the research studies cited refer to the general concept of student attrition using different terminology. Student persistence and student retention are terms utilized by some researchers in referring to a student's continued enrollment at an institution from one semester to another. Student attrition and student dropout are terms utilized by other researchers in referring to a student's failure to enroll from one semester to another. All four terms are referenced throughout this review essentially to refer to the same condition: whether or not a student enrolls in courses for the following semester.

Those who study or are employed in community colleges generally realize that many students have educational goals other than graduation (i.e., they enroll for a course or set of courses for personal interest or job training, or they are focused on earning a specific number of credit hours in order to transfer to a senior institution). The research studies examined in this review consider student dropout as occurring prior to an educational goal being achieved by the student.

Nearly all studies of community college student attrition typically target students who indicate that they are pursuing a degree or certificate that requires several semesters of coursework. Then, if the student fails to register for a consecutive semester prior to earning the degree or certificate, the student can be considered a dropout. Obviously, studying students with goals that do not require several semesters of coursework makes it difficult or impossible to determine who actually drops out. Moreover, students who fail to register at a community college for a subsequent semester cannot be automatically labeled as dropouts because they may have enrolled in another community college or senior institution. Additionally, failure to enroll can be due to nonacademic reasons such as entry into the workforce or unexpected medical, family, or other personal or nonacademic reasons. Therefore, for the purposes of this review, student attrition can be considered as unplanned academic-related or nonacademic-related events that occur prior to the student completing his or her educational objective. …

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