Academic journal article College Student Journal

Predicting College Students' Intention to Graduate: A Test of the Theory of Planned Behavior

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Predicting College Students' Intention to Graduate: A Test of the Theory of Planned Behavior

Article excerpt

The current study examined whether it is possible to increase college students' intention to earn a four-year degree with the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB). Three research questions were examined: (1) Can the TPB predict traditional undergraduates' graduation intention? (2) Does graduation intention differ by traditional students' year of enrollment? (3) Can the TPB predict transfer students' graduation intention? Results indicated the TPB variables predict graduation intention. This finding was discussed in relation to possible intervention programs college officials could utilize to increase their graduation rates.


A college education is a necessity for most careers in today's society. Researchers found that the median earning of bachelor's degree recipients working full-time year-round in 2008 was $55,700 (Baum, Ma, & Payea, 2010). This is approximately $21,900 more than the median earnings of high school graduates. Further, families headed by individuals with a bachelor's degree are expected to make about $1.6 million more than the incomes of families headed by those with only a high school degree (Hansen, 2003). These findings support the notion that a college degree can be a lucrative investment.

Despite the advantages of a college education, the U.S. has a relatively low post-secondary graduation rate. Bachelor degree attainment has plateaued since the early 1990s (Bowen, Chingos, & McPherson, 2009), with the U.S. now ranked 16th out of 23 developed countries in literacy proficiency, 21st in numeracy proficiency, and 14th in problem solving (Rogers, 2013). Further, the university or college at which a student enrolls also suffers when attrition occurs. Students who drop out take with them tuitions, fees, and other revenue the school may have been able to receive for housing, food, and bookstore purchases (Raisman, 2013). The average school loses $9,910,811 annually due to student dropout. Publicly assisted college and universities suffer the most; they lose an average of $13,267,214 from attrition, whereas the average private colleges and universities, and for-profit schools lose an average of $8,331,593 and $7,921,228, respectively (Raisman, 2013). For this reason, the current study focuses on increasing the graduation rate of students who are already enrolled at four-year institutions.

Literature Review

Research finds that college graduation is a complex issue, and that the most important components of students' satisfaction with their education changes from year to year (Lorenzetti, 2009). For freshmen, one of the most significant predictors of obtaining a degree is grades. First year students who earned higher scores in high school and on high school standardized tests were more likely to graduate from college (Calcagno, Crosta, Bailey, & Jenkins, 2007; Donhardt, 2013; Harackiewicz, Barron, Tauer, & Elliot, 2002; Shivpuri, Schmitt, Oswald, & Kim, 2006). Faculty and family support predicts persistence among freshmen as well (Robertson & Taylor, 2009; Soria & Stebelton, 2012; Vartanian, Karen, Buck, & Cadge, 2007). Lastly, research has suggested that students who live on campus were more likely to stay in school (Campbell & Fugua, 2009; Schudde, 2011).

Some second year students are believed to experience a phenomenon known as the "sophomore slump" that can affect their ability to achieve in college. The sophomore slump is described as a period of self-doubt and anxiety during students' sophomore year, which often results in lower academic performance (Shivpuri et al. 2006). Graunke and Woosley (2005) found that sophomores who were certain of their major achieved higher grades, whereas Shivpuri et al. (2006) examined academic growth patterns over time and found limited support for the sophomore slump. Thus, it remains undetermined whether all sophomores are affected equally.

Comparatively fewer studies have investigated factors that affect third-year student attrition. …

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