First-Year Students Who Engage Also Persist
Sadly, many college students fail to complete their degrees. For example, only 60% of students entering a bachelor’s degree-granting institution earn a degree within six years (U.S. Department of Education, 2018). Compared to graduates, students who drop out tend to earn less, are more likely to default on student loans, and have lower life satisfaction on average. Low degree-completion rates are also costly to institutions that invested in students through financial aid and other forms of subsidy, and must recruit new students to replace those who leave. Because colleges and universities can stem the tide of student attrition by emphasizing aspects of the student experience that matter to retention, we examined the relationship between engagement in the first year and a student’s likelihood of returning to campus the following fall term.
We obtained student-level persistence data (spring 2018 to fall 2018) for a sample of first-year students from 75 institutions that participated in a study funded by the ACUHO-I Research and Education Foundation examining students’ living arrangements. These institutions were diverse in terms of size, sector, student body, and Carnegie Classification, reflecting the diversity of four-year public and private, not-for-profit institutions nationally. Institutional persistence rates ranged from 53% to 98%, with a median of 92%. (These persistence rates are higher than what is typically reported because they focus on spring to fall, not fall to fall, persistence.) We compared persisters and nonpersisters on NSSE Engagement Indicators (EIs; see pp. 14–15), two key academic challenge items, and two factors from the living arrangements study.
Results show that all 10 Engagement Indicators as well as the other four measures were positively related to persistence, but the magnitude of the relationships varied (Figure 10). Among EIs, Quality of Interactions and Supportive Environment had the strongest relationship with persistence, while the differences for Higher-Order Learning, Reflective & Integrative Learning, Quantitative Reasoning, Collaborative Learning, and Effective Teaching Practices were nontrivial, but lesser in magnitude. Students who persisted also spent more time preparing for class and were more likely to believe their institution emphasizes spending significant amounts of time on academic work. What’s more, students who returned to the institution exhibited greater levels of financial well-being as well as belongingness and safety. These results demonstrate the vital role of the student experience in promoting persistence to the second year of college.
Go to an accessible version of Figure 10.