Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Predictors of Student Commitment at Two-Year and Four-Year Institutions

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Predictors of Student Commitment at Two-Year and Four-Year Institutions

Article excerpt

Introduction and Need for the Study

The present research examines the predictors of institutional commitment of first-year students at 28 two-year and 23 four-year public institutions. Previous research has demonstrated that institutional commitment is a strong predictor of college students' intent to persist, and ultimately student persistence itself (Braxton, Milem, & Sullivan, 2000; Cabrera, Nora, & Castaneda, 1993; Nora, Kraemer, & Itzen, 1997; Sandler, 2000, Tinto, 1987, 1993). Since institutional commitment is a precursor or predictor of student-persistence behavior, institutional commitment itself becomes an important object of study. Specifically, the study asks what are the factors that influence student commitment and what are the similarities and differences at two-year and four-year institutions.

Institutional commitment has been defined in a number of ways. Included in these definitions are the student's overall impression, satisfaction, sense of belonging, and perception of quality, match with, and attraction to a particular institution (Bean, 1990; Braxton et al., 2000; Nora & Cabrera, 1993; Sandler, 2000; Tinto, 1987; Volkwein, Valle, Blose, & Zhou, 2000). For the purposes of this study, student commitment is defined as a student's overall satisfaction, sense of belonging, impression of educational quality, and willingness to attend the institution again.

There are five major reasons why research on institutional commitment is important and needed. First, there is a dearth of empirical studies analyzing multicampus data and the important influence of structural/organizational influences on student outcomes. In discussing his "input-environment-output" (IEO) model, Astin notes the lack of empirical studies analyzing multicampus data and the important contribution of structural/organizational influences on student outcomes (1977, 1984). Updating his model in 1984, Astin points out that while student characteristics serve as important inputs into the outcomes model, the campus environment also provides the context for the student's investment of psychological and physical energy in the learning process.

Second, the link between institutional commitment and student persistence plays an important role in the enrollment management and revenue-planning agenda for all institutions of higher education. Public and private institutions alike have budgets that are substantially enrollment driven. Student commitment serves as a valuable planning tool because it predicts subsequent student-persistence behavior. By forecasting and maximizing retention and thus revenue, an institution strengthens its capacity for educational and administrative planning.

A third need for such studies is stimulated both by the differences between two-year and four-year institutions and by the paucity of research on these differences (Cohen & Brawer, 1996; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). The proportion of students leaving college without a degree is almost twice as large at two-year versus four-year campuses. Students beginning at two-year institutions earn a bachelors degree at a rate of 38.4% versus a degree-earning rate of 60.4% for students beginning their studies at four-year institutions (Digest of Educational Statistics, 2001). A comparison of student institutional commitment at two-year and four-year institutions has not been undertaken in any great depth, largely due to a lack of research in the two-year sector. While research on student commitment has been undertaken at many four-year institutions, a search of literature revealed only three studies focusing on institutional commitment at two-year institutions (Mutter, 1992; Nora et al., 1997; Pascarella, 1986). Retention research on four-year institutions cannot automatically be generalized to Community Colleges (Cohen & Brawer, 1996; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991).

As a fourth support for this study, the recent emphasis on student commitment and retention by accrediting agencies results in greater attention to policies and practices that improve student retention. …

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