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Doctoral Dissertation Announcement
Candidate: Benjamin Arendt
Doctor of Philosophy
Department: Educational Leadership, Research and Technology
Title: Student Persistence at a Small Private Religiously-affiliated College: An Examination of Retention Theory
Dr. Andrea Beach, Chair
Dr. Louann Bierlein-Palmer
Dr. Richard Zomer
Date: Friday, September 26, 2008 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
3208 Sangren Hall
Many studies have been conducted to create and examine theories of student departure, retention and persistence. The overall goal of such theories is to account for the relationships between students and the colleges they attend so that institutions can put strategies into place to improve upon those relationships; thus, improving student persistence, retention, and degree completion. Several tools have been created to measure the various student and institutional variables deemed important for persistence. One such tool is the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).
This study seeks to understand how one small, private, religiously-affiliated institution can maintain a high persistence rate while not seeming to exhibit several necessary retention factors as described in the literature and prescribed in theory. This study incorporates a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods within a two-phased research structure. The first portion of the research examined a national dataset (NSSE), while the second phase included student interviews based on the quantitative findings.
Key findings suggest that students are satisfied with the level and quality of their interactions with faculty at this institution. Students reported high (over) satisfaction with peers and the student life experiences in which they are engaged. The following overall themes emerged: (1) students report high levels of satisfaction with their student life experience, (2) the level of academic challenge is harder than expected, (3) academic challenge variations are based on content and faculty, (4) students report more faculty contact than peers at other institutions, (5) the lack of student-faculty interaction is a result of student’s schedules, a result of student contentment with existing levels of interaction, or lack of desire, (6) faculty advising is satisfactory but not influential, (7) email is considered student-faculty interaction, and (8) legacy has an impact on student perceptions.
Also present were first-year student themes. Those included: (1) faculty are not influential in choosing a major, and (2) students are satisfied with the quantity and the quality of faculty interactions. The senior themes were: (1) senior students have higher faculty interaction, and (2) professor enthusiasm for teaching positively influences engagement.
In summary, this institution scored significantly lower on the Student-Faculty Interaction benchmark when compared to its peers largely because of the responses of undecided first-year students. Over time, students express the value of faculty interaction; however, peers seem to be the most influential when choosing a major.