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Reducing student attrition: Inquiry into why students leave college before completing their degrees

Dawn Marie Ellinwood, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study aimed to determine the reasons why undergraduate students left a selected small, four-year, liberal arts college before finishing their degrees. This study compared the reasons for leaving college given by the withdrawing students to those perceptions of the students' academic advisors and six selected administrators. The issue in question is were these student withdrawals actually necessary or due to inadequacies in the systems on campus servicing the student. The research data, comprised of the responses of 143 withdrawing students, their academic advisors and selected administrators to specific questionnaires, formed the data for analysis to answer three interrelated research questions: (1) What are the timing patterns of when students tend to leave college before completing their degrees? (2) What are the major reasons why students leave college before completing their degrees? (3) What are some recommendations that may aid institutions of higher education in their efforts to improve student retention? The major findings based on the collected data were summarized and presented according to the three research questions that guided this study. The major findings related to the lack of connection, both academic and social, between some withdrawing students and their academic advisors and the six selected administrators. Theoretical recommendations were formulated from the collected data that will aid in the retention efforts on campuses across the country. The recommendations are as follows: (1) Foster an environment that aids in the development of the student's connection with the college; (2) Monitor the progress of each matriculating student on campus; (3) Develop a college specific plan for determining why students are leaving before completing their degrees. Practically speaking, these recommendations will look differently for each college campus. For example, how an institution fosters an environment that aids in the development of a connection between student and college depends upon the nature of the campus. Decision-makers need to evaluate what type of environment currently exists on campus and how this environment affects overall student retention. Once this is realized, then the process of developing a strategic plan for increasing student retention can commence.

Subject Area

Academic guidance counseling

Recommended Citation

Ellinwood, Dawn Marie, "Reducing student attrition: Inquiry into why students leave college before completing their degrees" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3096272.