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Twelve year pattern of retention and attrition in a commuter type university.

In most state supported or state owned institutions of higher education, budgets and appropriations are formula driven. The primary variable in many formulae are always the student headcount and/or the number of credit hours generated on the average by a student. When an institution recruits new populations of students, or increases the number of entering students, the college or university gains added revenue from serving those students. When a state college or university reduces attrition and increases the persistence rate of students over prior years, the college or university receives additional funds according to the state formula. Universities maintain great pride in graduating a high percentage of its senior students who entered bachelor degree programs four years earlier.

In the last two decades there has been a notable shift away from the pattern of undergraduates receiving a diploma after eight consecutive semesters. Many students take courses in summer sessions and graduate early. A large number of students in non-resident, urban universities work part time and, frequently, reduce their academic loads during a semester or quarter. Frequently, we find students stopping out for a semester; numerous reasons are reported for stopping out. Matriculation of these students is extended over more than four years. The dropouts and stopouts, as well as the continuing education model, determine the time of matriculation well beyond a consecutive four-year program.

Attrition in the first year of college is only one or two percent at highly competitive institutions such as Stanford University, Rice University, None Dame University, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University. In those institutions which are competitive in admissions policies, attrition ranges from 8% to 12% in the first year of study. Colleges and universities with open admissions or minimal admission criteria experience attrition rates from freshmen fall semester to sophomore fall registration of 413% to 60% (White and Bigham, 1982; White, Nylin, and Esser, 1985). One of the most important indicators emerging from ACE research has been that 75% of students who complete the sophomore year without interruption, complete all four years of college without interruption.

Tinto (1975) developed an explanatory, longitudinal model of the persistence and/or withdrawal of students based on a degree of "best fit" between student characteristics and institutional environment. The model data suggested that students enter a particular college or university with a range of background traits which contribute to initial commitments toward persistence and matriculation. Pascarella, Duby, and Iverson (1983) found that Tinto's model applied to non-residential (Commuter type) universities just as well. Although specific determinants are still to be verified by research, persistence in commuter type institutions is uniquely identified. Bite, Nylin, and Esser (1985) analyzed the high school transcripts of 400 randomly selected students from a population of 1990 freshmen who entered Lamar University, a commuter type University, a commuter type university, in 1979. The best predictor of success in graduation from college four or five years later at Lamar University was the number of academic courses (solids) taken in high school and the grade point average (GPA) of those solids. High school rank in the senior class was the second best predictor, while the total high school GPA was third best, and the total SAT score was fourth in predicting successful graduation.

Retention From First TIme Enrollment To Fall Registration In the Second Year of Study

In Fall 1982, Lamar University-Beaumont was a commuter type university of 12,500 students with minimum admission requirements and "open admissions standards." From the Fall enrollment of 1884 first time in college freshmen (FTIC), 40% of the students did not return to the University to begin the second year of study in Fall 1983 (Nylin, White, and Esser, 1983). Persisters (60%) were described with a mean GPA of 2.4, a mean SAT-V of 374, and a mean SAT-M of 411 for a total mean SAT score of 785.
Table 1

Six Year First Time In College (FTIC) & First Time Transfers (FTT)

                      1989    1990    1991    1992    1993    1994

Texas Sr. College      144     104     133     130     109     119
Texas Jr. College      172     199     156     148     166     145
Out of State CLG       302     249     304     159     155     172
FTIC                  1196    1421    1294    1157     840    1042

Total                 1814    1973    1887    1594    1270    1478

In the Fall of 1985, the criteria for first time in College Freshmen (FTIC) were a total SAT of 715 and 14 solids on the high school transcript. The total FTIC enrollment was 1754 students. The Office of Institutional Research at Lamar University reported a return of 59% of the 1985 freshmen cohort for classes in the Fall of 1986. An attrition, therefore, of 41% FTIC was computed.

The admission standards were elevated in 1988-89 requiring a SAT minimum score of 800, but numerous students were accepted with SAT scores well below 800. Table 1 contains six year data of first time in college (FTIC) and first time transfers (FTT) analysis from 19891994.

The total number of FTIC and FTT at Lamar University-Beaumont declined from 1990 to 1993. However, the enrollment of FTIC and FTT for Fall 1994 generated a 21% increase. A superior recruiting staff visited three times the number of high schools and junior college s over the prior year. The recruiting staff brought groups of students to campus and pointed up the positive characteristics of the University in these times.

Retention, however, seemed to be an elusive goal for Lamar University. Table 2 contains three benchmarks of retention of FTIC freshmen and FTT over a 12 year span of time.

The characteristics of student retention, or holding power of students in a commuter type [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] university is quite unique to social, geographic, and cultural variables. The majority of students generally, take more than four years to graduate. Stopouts are a significant characteristic of commuter students in an urban setting. No one denies that commuter type universities must fill the needs of its constituency just as four year colleges and doctoral universities must satisfy the needs of those who enroll. The constituency of students in commuter type universities is radically different from resident type universities.

The major component in the holding power of commuter type universities is personal adviser-counselor approach. Each entering student should be assigned a personal advisor-counselor upon entering college with whom weekly discussions for the first 8 weeks of fall semester are required, If the adviser-counselor perceives the student can be independent and matriculate without regular sessions, the requisite can be removed, The power in retention is enhanced by continuous, surgent, business-like, caring advisement-counseling for the first semester and longer. If Lamar University seriously seeks to decrease an attrition of FTIC-FTT students, the major implementation is an advisor-counselor program. Just as the highest predictor of success in college is a quality type advisor, so in a commuter type university, success is mostly determined from an advisor - counseling program. The commuter student can wander all over campus wondering what office he can visit for particular needs. The university should anticipate the needs of the commuter student and provide quality control of the student's first semester (or two) on campus. A large percentage of dropouts occurs in the first eight weeks of college. Commuting, home problems, and finance comprise most of the difficulty. The university, as a parent surrogate, should be there to help each day and each week of the beginning of college commuting.


Nylin, W.C., White, W.F., and Esser. P. (1983). Attrition-Retention of Lamar University freshmen (1982-1983) on a multi-campus setting. Lamar University: Office of Institutional Research and Reporting (IRR TR 83-01).

Pascarella, E.T., Duby, P.B., and Iverson, B.K. (1983). A test and reconceptualization of a theoretical model of college withdrawal in a commuter institution setting. Sociology of Education, 56. 88-100.

Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from higher education: a theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research, 45, 89-125.

White, W.F., and Bigham, W.D. Information systems approach to admissions, inion, and retention of students with developmental lag. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 1982. 15.16-26.

White, W.F., and Bigham, W.D. (1983). Increase of college retention by an information systems approach to instruction, Psychological Reports. 52. 306.

White, W.F., Nylin, W.C., and Esser P.R. (1985). Academic Course grades as better predicators of graduation from a cummuter type college that SAT scores. Psychological Reports. 56. 375-378.

WILLIAM F. WHITE AND DAVID MOSELY Lamar University Beaumont, Texas 77710
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Author:White, William F.; Mosely, David
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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