Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

College Persistence: Structural Equations Modeling Test of an Integrated Model of Student Retention

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

College Persistence: Structural Equations Modeling Test of an Integrated Model of Student Retention

Article excerpt

Although several theories have been advanced to explain the college persistence process |6, 44, 45, 50, 52~, only two theories have provided a comprehensive framework on college departure decisions. These two theoretical frameworks are Tinto's |50, 52~ Student Integration Model and Bean's |7~ Student Attrition Model. A review of the literature indicates that the Student Integration Model, for instance, has prompted a steady line of research expanding over a decade |see, for example, 37, 42, 30, 35, 24, 46, 18~. This research has validated Tinto's model across different types of institutions with differing student populations. In turn, the Student Attrition Model |4, 5, 6, 7, 10~ has also been proven to be valid in explaining student persistence behavior at traditional institutions |3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 18~, while modifications to the model have been incorporated to explain the persistence process among nontraditional students |9, 26~. Insofar as the two theories have attempted to explain the same phenomenon, no efforts have been made to examine the extent to which the two models can be merged to enhance our understanding of the process that affects students' decisions to remain in college. However, Cabrera, Castaneda, Nora, and Hengstler |18~ have provided evidence that there is considerable overlap between the two theoretical frameworks. Taking these findings one step further, this study attempts to document the extent to which these two theories can be merged in explaining students' persistence decisions by simultaneously testing all non-overlapping propositions underlying both conceptual frameworks.

Theoretical Framework

Student Integration Theory

Building on Spady's |44, 45~ work, Tinto |50, 51, 52~ advanced a model of student departure that explains the process that motivates individuals to leave colleges and universities before graduating. Tinto's theory attributes attrition to the lack of congruency between students and institutions. Tinto's theory basically asserts that the matching between the student's motivation and academic ability and the institution's academic and social characteristics help shape two underlying commitments: commitment to an educational goal and commitment to remain with the institution. Accordingly, the higher the goal of college completion and/or the level of institutional commitment, the greater is the probability of persisting in college.

The Student Integration Model has been subjected to considerable testing, and research findings have largely supported the predictive validity of the model as far as the role of precollege variables is concerned |37, 38~. Results are mixed, however, when the structural relations that the theory presumes to exist among academic integration, social integration, and institutional and goal commitments are subjected to empirical testing |14, 28, 30, 33, 39, 40, 36, 41, 46, 47~. Although contradictory findings have been attributed to type of institution, gender, ethnicity, and inconsistencies on the measurement of the constructs |19, 35, 31~, these mixed results can also be attributed to the lack of control for variables external to the institution.

A major gap in Tinto's theory and allied research has been the role of external factors in shaping perceptions, commitments, and preferences |7~. This topic is particularly relevant from both a policy analysis and an institutional perspective, given the different social and institutional programs aimed at stimulating enrollment and preventing attrition by addressing variables other than institutional ones (that is, ability to pay, parental support). In spite of this limitation, researchers have found that the Student Integration Model is useful in exploring the role of such external factors as significant other's influence |30, 35, 19~ and finances |15, 19, 24, 30~.

Student Attrition Model

Over the years, Bean |3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8~ has advanced an alternative model to explain the college persistence process. …

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