Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

International Perspectives on Retention and Persistence

Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

International Perspectives on Retention and Persistence

Article excerpt


Improving retention and persistence in higher education institutions in the United States has been a key priority since the 1970's, when researchers began focusing on why students were leaving school. The focus for institutions up to that time was primarily on financial viability; achieving sustainability through increased enrollment and college attendance then became important (Morrison & Silverman, 2012, p. 62). Researchers in persistence and retention have proposed a number of theoretical models to explain why students do and do not persist in traditional higher education settings; these models have evolved over time to include reasons for attrition among non-traditional students, ethnic minority students, and others.

Calderon (2012) reported that the number of students enrolled in tertiary education worldwide will likely increase 314% between 2000 and 2030; such a dramatic increase presents challenges for retention and persistence of students. As education is becoming increasingly global in nature through the establishment of branch campuses, mobility of international students, and the increasing reach made possible through internet delivery, it is important to clarify our understanding of retention and persistence and its potential consequences for education worldwide. Researchers can use the experiences of the development of higher education infrastructure in the United States to guide models of development in other countries outside the U.S.. In a similar manner, understanding the challenges faced in higher education outside the U.S. can provide perspectives on contemporary understanding of persistence and retention.

Participation in and completion of higher (tertiary) education degrees has become a priority worldwide. In the United States, President Obama has set significant goals for higher education attainment; for example, he has suggested that community colleges should strive for 5 million graduates by 2020 (The White House, 2013). The European Union (EU) has stated a goal of 40% of all traditional college age individuals having graduated from a higher education institution by 2020 (European Commission, 2013, p. 12). In developing countries, there is a pressing need to provide tertiary education that supports the professions that are necessary to sustain a rising middle class and thus a healthy economy (Kapur & Crowly, 2008). This expressed need is not without positive consequences.

Research in the United States continues to support the economic and social advantage that results from achieving a tertiary degree. "Higher education benefits students, employers, the economy and society. Graduates earn higher salaries and contribute more, on average, to economic growth" (Comptroller and Auditor General, 2007, p. 5).

Greenstone, Looney, Patashnik, and Yu (2013), as part of a policy statement, demonstrated that higher education is one pathway out of poverty (p. 14) and that the annual earnings of college graduates, compared to those who did not attend college, were approximately double (p. 16). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2012) reported that employment rates are 28% higher for graduates from tertiary programs compared to those who have not completed upper secondary education (p. 120). It is evident that higher education holds a promise for better employability and higher individual incomes globally as well as for more general social and economic prosperity, particularly in developing countries seeking to expand the middle class. As such, these benefits of tertiary education appear to have encouraged participation.

Enrollment in tertiary education has increased significantly. Kapur and Crowley (2008) noted that the number of students in tertiary education worldwide approximately doubled between 1991 and 2004 to 123 million students. In a report prepared for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Altbach, Reisberg, and Rumbley (2009) pointed that "the percentage of the [college] age cohort enrolled in tertiary education has grown from 19% in 2000 to 26% in 2007" (p. …

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