Retention and Persistence in Higher Education: An Exploratory Study of Risk Factors and Milestones Impacting Second Semester Retention of Freshmen Students

Sean Jeremy Chism, University of Missouri-St. Louis


This study investigated individual factors and milestones which may assist institutions in predicting first to second semester retention rates of freshmen students. While the data examined were limited to the student population enrolled at a rural community college, implications from the study could be meaningful for all institutions of higher education. The investigators examined extant data to determine whether exam scores, graduating high school GPAs/rank, and Pell Grant eligibility could be used as predictor variables in identifying students at-risk of leaving the institution. In addition, key milestones (time of registration, participation in a first year experience (FYE) course, declaring a major) were also examined to determine whether these events predicted retention. The study utilized a mixed methods approach analyzing quantitative data through linear regressions and Chi Squares that were obtained through agency records and closed-ended survey questions, while qualitative data was acquired through open-ended survey questions. Participants included 97 first-time freshmen enrolled at a southwest Missouri rural community college during the Fall 2015 semester and 1,150 students enrolled at the college between Fall 2011 and Fall 2013. The Fall 2015 first-time freshmen were asked to complete an online 24-item survey designed to extract both quantitative and qualitative data. The researchers found that ACT and Compass scores (with the exception of Compass Writing), and High School GPA/rank were strong predictors in determining first to second semester retention; however Pell Grant eligibility was found to be insignificant. Although the key milestones of time of registration, participation in a FYE course, and declaring a major were found to be insignificant in predicting retention rates of freshmen students, the qualitative data gathered suggested that the examined milestones had merit for a retention model.