Understanding Student Departure: Identifying Primary Factors Attributable to Attrition Among First-Year Students: A Consultative Retention Analysis Study for Kentucky Wesleyan College
Domas, George Matthew
Hicks, Ramona Ingrid
The following project responds to a request by Kentucky Wesleyan College (KWC) to examine their student departure problem. Specifically, the KWC first-year retention rate is 54.8% (2006 freshman cohort, n= 323), well below the overall state average for independent colleges and university of 69.5% (AIKCU, 2006) and the national average 73.6% (NCHEMS, 2002). This is a challenge faced by many colleges and universities, and thus, there is extant literature available to assist in the analysis of the complicated puzzle of college student departure. We have reviewed and applied this literature in a systematic method to gain insight into the issues associated with student departure at Kentucky Wesleyan College. The ill-structured problem of college student departure is defined as the interaction between the individual student and the university or college attended (Braxton, Hirschy & McClendon, 2004). For the purpose of this project, all first-year Kentucky Wesleyan students are at-risk of college student departure, both residential and commuter students. Plus, the goals and objectives of the project include: assessment of the institutional retention levers --- KW1101, the PLUS Center, and the Academic Alert system, to determine efficacy and provide recommendations for improvement; exploration of reasons for early student departure through qualitative and quantitative analyses; and, recommendation of programs to improve retention. The project's guiding question is "What are the primary factors attributable to the significant attrition rate of first-year student at Kentucky Wesleyan College?" The examination of retention levers indicates that KWC has room for improvement in making these levers more efficacious in aiding student persistence. The positive aspect of this project is that most of the levers, when functioning effectively, will indeed perform as designed. The project team concludes that there is only one compelling component of this examination that truly answers the guiding question. The JV football program is attributable to the significant increase in first-year departure at Kentucky Wesleyan College; and therefore, the program should be retrenched, so as not to continue the investment with both negative student and institutional implications. In addition, the project team made fifteen additional recommendations based upon the assessment of the institutional policy levers identified to impact retention, as well as the quantitative analyses from the University Students' Experiences Survey. Moreover, the project team recommends that through a purposeful campaign, Kentucky Wesleyan College can renew policies, practices and interactions with students, undergirded by the theoretical foundation of a commitment of the institution to student welfare and institutional integrity, to help reduce the significant attrition rate among first-year students.
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