This study analyzed undergraduate students' (n = 280) attitudes toward selected social factors that would influence and discourage student persistence at a four-year research university. Using a modified Delphi technique to construct the questionnaire, the researchers discovered that family encouragement, positive relationships with professors, and positive course experiences were the most agreed social factors that encourage student persistence. Additionally, respondents agreed that burn out from school-related responsibilities, lack of time management skills, and the inability to handle stress as negative social factors that would discourage student persistence. The article concludes with a discussion about the role and importance of universities to invest in the required amount of effort needed to ensure that students are experiencing academic success and social congruence.
Introduction and Theoretical Framework
Over the past few years, student retention and persistence at colleges and universities throughout the United States has become an important component for higher education. Although college enrollment numbers have steadily increased, far too many of these students never finish. According to the latest reports by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only 31% of the students who began as first-year full-time undergraduates at 4 year public institutions in 2002 completed a Bachelor's degree within six years (Aud et al., 2011). In contrast, Raley (2007) reports that six out of every 10jobs require some form of postsecondary education. As such, the United States, once a world leader in the number of 25 to 34 year olds with college degrees, now ranks 12th among the 36 developed nations with only 42% (Lewin, 2011). Even at private institutions (not-for-profit and for-profit), the graduation rates remain similar to the national trend (35% at not for profit and 13% at for profit institutions). As a result, the growing concern of the United States education deficit has invoked education leaders and policy makers to create new ways to bolster college completion rates. The President's initiative, Race to the Top, has allocated over 193 million dollars in federal funds to assist states in increasing graduation rates (Lewin, 2011). The initiative's aim is meeting the goal of having 8 million college graduates by the year 2020 which will help the United States again lead the world in educational attainment.
With almost 70% of high school graduates enrolling in post-secondary institutions every year, America's colleges and universities must continue to develop ways to retain its student population for degree completion. Though access to higher education has increased and the gap in access between various race and ethnic groups has decreased, there is still much to do to translate access to college into college success (Tinto, 2010). The need to understand and improve college persistence is critical. As Carey (2005) states: "the pressures of global competition, once limited to lower-skill jobs, are steadily moving up the economic ladder as the well-paying jobs require far more in the way of knowledge, training, and skills than ever before" (p. 2). As such, it matters now more than ever, for colleges and universities to examine what factors affect student persistence. Although student retention and persistence research has spanned many decades (Blanc, DeBuhr, & Martin, 1983; Carey, 2005; Pascarella & Terinzini, 1991; Tinto, 1975; 2010), there is still much that is unknown. Students and their reasons for persistence or not matriculating through college vary tremendously. As the above mentioned research tells us, there in no one solution to the graduation rate problem in addition to the multitude of information yet to be uncovered. Even so, as college attrition has been examined on many student characteristics, current research tells us that students success is a function of both social and academic engagement (Carey, 2005). …