Social Connectedness and Student Debt: Predicting College Retention at a Four-Year Private Liberal Arts Institution
SubjectCollege graduates--Finance, Personal; Student retention--Education, Higher; Social connectedness--Students--Education, Higher
Of all the students entering a four-year institution of higher education, only 52.8% graduate within five years (Noble & Sawyer, 2013). Over the years, American higher education has made little progress toward improving the graduation rate and ensuring students entering college will be successful. University leaders and policymakers have increased their academic success efforts to improve retention and graduation rates (Bettinger & Baker, 2014). Using the theory of social connectedness, the purpose of this quantitative study was to determine the extent to which quality relationships with peers, faculty, and staff predict student retention and graduation at a small, private institution located in the central United States. Hierarchical regression analyses indicated financial debt as a statistically significant predictor of student retention. In regards to graduation, no variables were found to be statistically significant. Seniors were significantly more likely than freshmen to have quality relationships with peers. Females were significantly more likely than males to develop quality relationships with staff. In this study, with financial debt being the greatest predictor of retention, institutions could provide debt counselors to help students navigate through any financial challenges they may encounter. Another option would be to charge tuition as a complete package rather than paying per semester. Paying upfront could increase the commitment level on behalf of the student and allow institutions to capture money that is normally lost when a student leaves, allowing institutions to lower overall tuition. Further details and additional recommendations for policy and practice are provided for students and institutions.