The financial state of the retention rate
Hutto, James Bryant
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This study explored the impact of unmet financial needs on students at a two-year technical college and the relationship of those needs to student retention. Three primary research questions guided this action research case study: (1) Is there a statistical correlation among socioeconomic factors and SAT scores that could help explain why some students enter college with an unmet financial need? (2) How do financial assistance strategies impact individual technical college students faced with academic dismissal due to nonpayment? (3) How do college leaders learn (individually and collectively) through an action research process designed to address student retention? Through the action research process, the principal investigator, along with administrators and leaders from the study site, identified correlations between socioeconomic indicators and standardized test scores, and leveraged that data to develop an action plan to compensate students for unmet financial needs, with the goal of retaining more students at the institution. Data were collected through institutional research sources, interviews of organizational leaders, student essays, and researcher observations. The interventions comprised a cyclical process, allowing for the implementation and evaluation of the unmet financial need program. Major findings indicated that: (1) income as a socioeconomic factor was related to lower standardized test scores, serving as an indicator for potential unmet financial need; (2) programs of scholarship had a positive effect on students’ unmet financial need; and (3) the college administration experienced transformational learning about students and unmet financial need through the action research process. The researcher concluded that: (1) socioeconomic factors are correlated with standardized test scores, suggesting potential indicators of unmet financial need; (2) students’ unmet financial need can be offset by scholarship initiatives focusing on retention; and (3) transformative learning of college leaders can occur within an action research process centering on the unmet financial needs of today’s students. This study extends Tinto’s (1975) theory of departure by adding the dimension of academic history and defining debt as unmet financial need, as these concepts relate to student retention. The results from this study could be used by higher education institutions as the basis for a model early-retention intervention program.