Understanding & Improving Student Retention

December 12, 2022
  • Professional Development and Contributions to the Field
  • Research
University student pondering decisions from an outlook on campus.

Higher education researchers have long been interested in student retention; however, few scholars have focused on the decision-making process related to dropping out of college. 

While there is a considerable body of research examining factors that are associated with dropping out of college, (factors such as finances, personal issues, medical issues, family issues, GPA, changing majors, stopping out temporarily, need to work, etc.), relatively little is known about to whom students turn when considering whether to drop out of college, write M. Leah Adinolfi, David R. Johnson, and John M. Braxton in a recent College & University feature.  

The researchers conducted a study to examine the role of students’ social networks on college departure. Based on surveys of 952 students at a public research-intensive institution, they found that students considering leaving college would more likely turn to friends and family than campus staff or faculty. In addition, frequency and perceived quality of interactions with campus personnel would have an impact on retention, they found. 

According to the researchers:

[T]he individuals in students’ social networks of the decision-making process of dropping out of college, significant others such as parents and friends would most likely be consulted if a student considers departure from their university. For other members of this social network such as faculty, academic advisors, and student services personnel, favorable interactions with them increase the likelihood students would talk with them about leaving their institution.

In light of these findings, the researchers offered recommendations for institutional action, including: 

  • Identify faculty who frequently interact with students on matters unrelated to coursework and ask them to serve as academic advisors; reward faculty members who frequently interact with students outside of class and who students perceive as having an influence on their intellectual and personal development; and establish the role of student success worker for selected faculty members. 

  • Create workshops for academic advisors to ensure they practice intrusive and intensive advising. 

  • Provide supplemental and preventative student services and allowance of time for student service professionals to engage with students meaningfully. 

Colleges and universities have a vested interest in identifying practices that encourage students to talk with someone at the institution prior to departure, the researchers write. This study provides a starting point for identifying the factors that might impact a student’s likelihood of reaching out to university personnel for a conversation before making that decision.

Other articles in this issue include: 


Examining Higher Education’s Role in Preparing School Counselors for College Admissions Counseling by Tara Horner and Lee Westberry

An Interview with Jeff Selingo by Jennifer DeHaemers

An Interview with Nathan Grawe by Stephen Handel 

Research in Brief

The Biden Administration's Ambitious Higher Ed Agenda by Michelle Mott 

Campus Viewpoint

Supporting Adult Students with Improved Enrollment Practices by Michael J. Sparrow 

A Tale of Two Community Colleges: A Dual Enrollment Recruitment Outreach Strategy by Tiffany Webber, Stepheni Anderson, Eric Devlin, and Diane VanDyke 

Bolstering Graduate Healthcare Student Success Through Emotional Intelligence by Neil Birt 

The AACRAO Review

Review of: History of American Higher Education A-Z: A Primer for Enrollment Managers by Kimberley Buster-Williams by Joseph Mews 

Review of: What's Public about Public Education: Halting Public Education's Decline in the Court of Public Opinion by Stephen Handel 

Review of: A Problem of Fit: How the Complexity of College Pricing Hurts Students - and Universities by Trista Wdziekonski

Review of: Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping by Elayne Vaughn

For more information on submitting research or practice articles to C&U, please contact Managing Editor Heather Zimar


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