Academic journal article College Student Journal

Intention to Persist and Retention of First-Year Students: The Importance of Motivation and Sense of Belonging

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Intention to Persist and Retention of First-Year Students: The Importance of Motivation and Sense of Belonging

Article excerpt

At public Ph.D. granting institutions in the United States, approximately 22% of first-year college students do not return for their sophomore year (ACT, 2011). It was hypothesized that higher levels of sense of belonging would be related to self-reported intention to persist as well as actual second-year retention. It was expected that higher levels of positive motivational attitudes would be related to intention to persist and second-year retention. When sense of belonging and motivational attitudes were included in the same prediction model, sense of belonging was no longer significantly related to intention to persist or second-year retention.

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Description of the Problem

By 2015 an additional 2.3 million students will be enrolled in college (NCPPHE, 2000). Even though enrollments are increasing, retention and graduation rates have remained relatively low. At public Ph.D. granting institutions in the United States, approximately 22% of first-year college students do not return for their sophomore year (ACT, 2011). Graduation rates are even more troubling. Only about 48% of college students in the U.S. complete their degree within five years. The majority of student departures (about 56%) occur prior to a student's second year at an institution (Tinto, 2001). While approximately 35 percent of students depart a university because of academic reasons, the other 65 percent leave a university voluntarily for non-academic reasons. What impacts a student's decision to persist at a university? What can institutions do to retain their students?

Intention to Persist and Retention

Students leave a university for a variety of reasons: academic difficulty, adjustment problems, uncertain goals, lack of commitment, inadequate finances, lack of student involvement, and poor fit to the institution (Tinto, 2001). Tinto (1996) reported that over half of all students who depart a university do so prior to their second year of college and that only 60% of students who are enrolled at four-year college actually earn a degree. Research (e.g., Woosley, 2003) has shown that the first few weeks of a student's experience on a college campus is related to degree completion. Specifically, she found that both social and academic adjustment was related to persisting at that university. Other researchers (Astin, 1984, Beil, Reisen, Zea, & Caplan, 1999; Cadet, 2008; Milem & Berger, 1997, Mutter, 1992)have presented evidence that commitment to the university and involvement in campus activities (both social and academic) are strongly related to retention. Astin (1984) believed that how much energy a student invests in the institution is positively related to the likelihood that they will not depart that institution. What has not yet been adequately explored is what is more predictive of persistence and retention, connectedness to the university environment or a student's motivation in regards to succeeding in higher education?

Sense of Belonging, Motivation, and the University Environment

How connected students feel to their university is an important construct to consider when looking at why students may or may not persist at an institution. Sense of community, or sense of belonging, can be defined as the sense that members of a community feel that they belong and that they matter to one another (McMillian & Chavis, 1996). Researchers have found that sense of belonging is related to academic progress, academic achievement and social acceptance (Freeman, Anderman, & Jenson, 2007; Meeuwisse Severiens, & Born, 2010; Walton & Cohen, 2007). In a study of community college students, Berger (1997) found that sense of community was not only related to institutional commitment but also to intention to persist. Interaction with members of the college community (faculty and peers) was also related to intention to persist. While there is some research (Campbell& Mislevy, 2009; Hausmann Schofield, & Woods, 2007; HausmannYe Schofield, & Woods, 2009; Velasquez, 1999) to support that there is a relationship between sense of belonging and intention to persist this area needs further exploration. …

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