Intention to persist and retention of first-year students: the importance of motivation and sense of belonging.
Description of the Problem
By 2015 an additional 2.3 million students will be enrolled in college (NCPPHE, 2000). Even though enrollments are increasing, retention and graduation rates have remained relatively low. At public Ph.D. granting institutions in the United States, approximately 22% of first-year college students do not return for their sophomore year (ACT, 2011). Graduation rates are even more troubling. Only about 48% of college students in the U.S. complete their degree within five years. The majority of student departures (about 56%) occur prior to a student's second year at an institution (Tinto, 2001). While approximately 35 percent of students depart a university because of academic reasons, the other 65 percent leave a university voluntarily for non-academic reasons. What impacts a student's decision to persist at a university? What can institutions do to retain their students?
Intention to Persist and Retention
Students leave a university for a variety of reasons: academic difficulty, adjustment problems, uncertain goals, lack of commitment, inadequate finances, lack of student involvement, and poor fit to the institution (Tinto, 2001). Tinto (1996) reported that over half of all students who depart a university do so prior to their second year of college and that only 60% of students who are enrolled at four-year college actually earn a degree. Research (e.g., Woosley, 2003) has shown that the first few weeks of a student's experience on a college campus is related to degree completion. Specifically, she found that both social and academic adjustment was related to persisting at that university. Other researchers (Astin, 1984, Beil, Reisen, Zea, & Caplan, 1999; Cadet, 2008; Milem & Berger, 1997, Mutter, 1992)have presented evidence that commitment to the university and involvement in campus activities (both social and academic) are strongly related to retention. Astin (1984) believed that how much energy a student invests in the institution is positively related to the likelihood that they will not depart that institution. What has not yet been adequately explored is what is more predictive of persistence and retention, connectedness to the university environment or a student's motivation in regards to succeeding in higher education?
Sense of Belonging, Motivation, and the University Environment
How connected students feel to their university is an important construct to consider when looking at why students may or may not persist at an institution. Sense of community, or sense of belonging, can be defined as the sense that members of a community feel that they belong and that they matter to one another (McMillian & Chavis, 1996). Researchers have found that sense of belonging is related to academic progress, academic achievement and social acceptance (Freeman, Anderman, & Jenson, 2007; Meeuwisse Severiens, & Born, 2010; Walton & Cohen, 2007). In a study of community college students, Berger (1997) found that sense of community was not only related to institutional commitment but also to intention to persist. Interaction with members of the college community (faculty and peers) was also related to intention to persist. While there is some research (Campbell& Mislevy, 2009; Hausmann Schofield, & Woods, 2007; HausmannYe Schofield, & Woods, 2009; Velasquez, 1999) to support that there is a relationship between sense of belonging and intention to persist this area needs further exploration.
Motivation has also been shown to be a factor in students' persistence and retention. Allen (1999) found that for minority students there was a significant relationship between motivation and persistence, though this relationship was not significant for non-minority students. French, Immekus, and Oakes (2005) discovered that motivation was related to engineering students persisting within their major.
Goal of the Study
The goal of this study was to assess the importance of sense of belonging and motivation in predicting intention to persist in college and retention of students from their first to second year. It was hypothesized that higher levels of sense of belonging (peer support, faculty support, classroom comfort) and lower levels of perceived isolation would be related to self-reported intention to persist as well as actual second-year retention. It was expected that higher levels of positive motivational attitudes (intrinsic value, instrumental value, personal development) and lower levels of less positive motivational attitudes (external pressures, no better opinion) would be related to intention to persist and second-year retention. Lastly, we wanted to ascertain which variables had the strongest relationship with intention to persist and second-year retention.
Nine hundred and sixty first-year undergraduates (out of a possible 2039 first-time enrollees) were selected to participate in the study in the summer of their first year in college. These students were chosen because they had previously completed surveys for other projects related to the first-year experience during their first year of college. Participants were asked to complete an online survey, which contained questions regarding their experiences during their first year of college. One hundred and fifty-six students (16% response rate) completed the online survey. Students who completed the survey were entered into a raffle to win one of 20 $20.00 cash prizes. This institution's ethical review board approved this study and all APA (2002) ethical guidelines were followed.
The participants (114 females, 42 males) ranged in age from 18-23 years old. The majority of students were either Caucasian (51%) or Black/African-American (30.2%). Many of these first-year students still resided with their parents (43.9%) while attending college.
Sense of Belonging Scale (SBS; Hoffman, Richmond, Morrow, & Salomone, 2002-2003). The 26-item SBS was used to measure students' sense of belonging in the college environment. The scale contains four subscales: perceived peer support (I have met with classmates outside of class to study for an exam), perceived classroom comfort (I felt comfortable asking a question in class), perceived isolation (I rarely talked to other students in my class), and perceived faculty support (I felt comfortable talking about a problem with faculty). Respondents rated these items using a scale that ranged from 1 to 5, with 1 indicating completely untrue and 5 completely true. For the current study the Cronbach's alphas for the subscales ranged from .89 to .92.
Academic Attitudes Scale (AAS; Wong, 1998). The 29-item AAS measures student's motivations for attending a university and their general attitude towards university education. It consists of six subscales: intrinsic value (I find university education challenging), instrumental value (University education improves my chances of getting a good job), personal development (University education helps develop my ability to think critically and creatively), external pressure (My parents place a great deal of pressure on me to succeed academically), social interest (I am attracted by the social life offered at this university), and no better opinion (I'm at this university because I don't have any other options). Participants rated each question on a 7-point scale (l-strongly disagree to 7-strongly agree). The internal consistency of the subscales ranged from .61 (external pressures) to. 86 (no better opinion). Due to unacceptable reliability (.51), social interest was not used in any further analyses.
Persistence and Retention. Intention to persist was measured with the self-reported question, "I will obtain a bachelor's degree from this university" using a 6-point Likert scale (l-strongly disagree to 6strongly agree). Second-year retention (0-not enrolled at university, 1-enrolled at university) was obtained from students' official academic records.
Potential participants were solicited via email during the summer after their first year in college. In the email, students were directed to a website which hosted the secure, online survey. Non-responders to the email were mailed a letter announcing the study to their home address. Students who had not filled out the survey one month after first being solicited were emailed an announcement regarding the study one last time.
Frequencies and descriptives were calculated for all continuous variables in order to detect outliers, non-normality, missing data, and any coding errors. Few outliers were found and were modified as recommended by Tabachnick and Fidell (2001). There was some missing data (<5%) for the intention to persist variables so those participants were removed from future analyses. Scores on the sense of belonging subscales were all normally distributed. There was slight positive skewness and kurtosis in some of the motivation subscales and the intention to persist variable but transformations did not improve normality, therefore raw scores for these variables were used in all analyses. All other assumptions for correlation, multiple regression, and logistic regression were not violated.
Sense of Belonging and Intention to Persist/Retention
To assess if sense of belonging was related to intention to persist a standard multiple regression was performed. The multiple regression included the four sense of belonging subscales (peer support, faculty support, classroom comfort, perceived isolation) as independent variables. The overall multiple regression for intention to persist, was not significant, however the significance test for the predictor perceived faculty support was significant (p< .05). Faculty support ([beta] = .19, [sr.sub.i.sup.2] = .03) was significantly positively related to intending to receive a degree from the university; those students who reported more support from faculty were more likely to intend to persist at the university. In order to assess if sense of belonging was related to 2nd year retention a standard logistic regression was conducted. The overall logistic regression was non-significant, however, the statistical test for the predictor perceived peer support was significant (p< .05). The more perceived peer support (odd ratio = 2.06) a student reported the more likely they were to have returned in the fall of their sophomore year. Refer to Table 1 for a summary of the results.
Motivational Attitudes and Intention to Persist/Retention
To determine if motivational attitudes were related to intention to persist a standard multiple regression was performed. The multiple regression used five of the attitudes subscales (intrinsic value, instrumental value, personal development, external pressure, no better opinion) as independent variables. The overall multiple regression was significant, F(5,143) = 6.18, p < .001, R = .42 and Adj. [R.sup.2] = .15. This set of predictors accounted for 15% of the variance in intention to persist. Both instrumental value ([beta = .32, [sr.sub.i.sup.2] = .05;p < .01) and no better opinion ([beta] = -.23, [sr.sub.i.sup.2] = .03; p < .05) were significant predictors. The more instrumental value and the less no better opinion the participants reported the more likely they were to say they intended to obtain a degree from this university. To measure the relationship between motivational attitudes and 2nd year retention a standard logistic regression was conducted. The overall logistic regression was significant, [X.sup.2](5) = 15.67, p < .001, Cox & Snell [R.sup.2] = .10; accounted for 10% of the variance in retention from first to second year. Only personal development (Odds ratio = 1.95; p < .05) was a significant predictor; the more one agreed that personal development was a motivating factor in their attending the university the more likely they were to have returned in the fall of their sophomore year. Refer to Table 2 for a summary of the results.
To ascertain which variables were the strongest predictors of intention to persist a standard multiple regression was conducted using all predictors that were significant in previous analyses (perceived faculty support, instrumental value and no better opinion). The overall multiple regression was significant, F(3,152) = 10.41, p < .001, R = .41, Adj. [R.sup.2] = .15; accounting for 15% of the variance in intention to persist. Only instrumental value ([beta] = .24, [sr.sub.i.sup.2] = .04; p < .01) and no better opinion ([beta] = -.23, [sr.sub.i.sup.2] = .04;p < .01) were significant predictors of intention to persist; perceived faculty support dropped out as a significant predictor. For the dependent variable first to second year retention, a standard logistic regression was conducted using the variables perceived peer support and personal development as predictors. The overall logistic regression was significant, [X.sup.2] (2) = 13.21, p < .01, R = .31, Cox & Snell [R.sup.2] = .08; accounting for 8% of the variance in retention. Only personal development (Odds ratio = 1.91;p < .01) was a significant predictor of first to second year retention; perceived peer support dropped out as a significant predictor.
Summary of Results
We hypothesized that sense of belonging would be significantly related to intention to persist and second-year retention and this was partially confirmed. Faculty support had a small, but significant positive relationship with intention to persist at the university. Shelton (2003) had found in her sample of nursing students that the amount of faculty support differed significantly between those that persisted versus those that had dropped out, with those that had persisted reporting significantly higher levels of faculty support. Jackson Smith and Hill (2003) also found that faculty warmth was an important factor in students' persistence and retention. We also found that peer support was a significant predictor of second-year retention. Berger and Milem (1999) reported that peer involvement and peer support predicted retention and Dennis Phinney and Chuateco (2005) showed that peer support was strongly related to college adjustment and grade point average. However, when both faculty support and peer support were included in the final analyses containing all previous significant predictors (sense of belonging and motivational attitudes) both of the sense of belonging variables were no longer significantly related to intention to persist or 2nd year retention. Is a student's motivation more important than their sense of belongingness on campus when it comes to intention to persist and retention? This question needs to be explored further in order to fully understand the complex relationships among these variables.
We also hypothesized that motivational attitudes would be significantly related to intention to persist and retention from first to second year and this was also partially supported. Both instrumental value and no better opinion were predictive of students' intention to persist. Students that reported being more motivated by instrumental goals such as getting a good job and succeeding in society were more likely to intend to persist and those students who didn't have any distinct goals or motivations to be at the university were less likely to persist. Hull-Blanks and colleagues (2005) reported that first-year students who had more job-related goals were more likely to persist than those students who had unknown goals. Just personal development was related to second-year retention; those students who had more intrinsic attitudes towards increasing their creative thinking were more likely to have returned for their second year. All of the motivational attitudes variables remained significant predictors even when the sense of belonging variables were added to the analysis.
Limitations and Conclusions
The results of this study show that not only do we need to look at non-cognitive factors as one piece of the retention puzzle but we also need to investigate which specific non-cognitive factors are most important. Understanding which factors explain the most variance will enable us to better develop strategies to increase these experiences in our students and thereby increase the chances that our students will persist. Looking beyond just demographics and academic preparedness will enable college personnel to modify the university environment to better prepare our students for degree attainment.
One study at one university cannot answer all of our questions regarding how we can increase the retention rate of our students. Our results are only generalizable to similar samples with similar demographics. However, it does offer some insight into what we should focus on when it comes to deciding how to best retain our students. More research needs to be done on what are the best predictors of retention as well as what interventions and modifications (e.g., learning communities, mandatory internships, peer mentors) are most successful in helping to retain our students.
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JENNIFER ANN MORROW
The University of Tennessee
MARGOT E. ACKERMANN
Old Dominion University
Table 1 The Relationship between Sense ofBelonging and Intention to Persist/Retention Intention to Persist Variable B [beta] [sr.sup.2.sub.i] Perceived peer support .14 .12 .01 Perceived classroom comfort -.17 -.13 .01 Perceived isolation .01 .01 .00 Perceived faculty support .30 .19 * .03 Second-Year Retention Variable Odds Ratio Perceived peer support 2.06 * Perceived classroom comfort .94 Perceived isolation 1.42 Perceived faculty support 1.42 Note. For intention to persist, R =.20 and Adj. [R.sup.2] = .01. For second-year retention, Cox & Snell [R.sup.2] = .03. * p < .05. Table 2 The Relationship between Motil,ation and Intention to Persist/Retention Intention to Persist Variable B [beta] [sr.sup.2.sub.i] Intrinsic value -.05 -.01 .00 Instrumental value .39 .32 ** .05 Personal development .04 .02 .00 External pressure -.12 -.11 .01 No better opinion -.22 -.23 * .03 Second-Year Retention Variable Odds Ratio Intrinsic value 1.02 Instrumental value 1.75 Personal development 1.95 * External pressure .71 No better opinion 1.28 Note. For intention to persist, R = .42 and Adj. [R.sup.2] = .15. For second-year retention, Cox & Snell [R.sup.2]= .10. * p < .05. ** p<.01.
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|Author:||Morrow, Jennifer Ann; Ackermann, Margot E.|
|Publication:||College Student Journal|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2012|
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