A case study of student retention in two programs at a two -year for -profit institution of post-secondary education

Sergio Benjamin Sauchuk, University of Pennsylvania


Under the scrutiny of stakeholders and external parties, many post-secondary institutions expend substantial effort to improve student graduation rates. Studying their retention strategies to analyze strengths and weaknesses is thus an important endeavor. I conducted a case study of student retention (Winter 1998–Fall 1999) at the Art Institute of Philadelphia concentrating on two of its programs—Photography and Industrial Design Technology. I focused on these two programs as one has the highest graduation rates within the institution, while the other has the lowest. My research questions were: Given the same institutional resources for student retention, why is industrial design technology retaining its students at higher rates? What roles do administrators, faculty, and students play in retention? What have been the problems encountered and what were the results? How does the nature of each of the programs affect student retention? How do student input variables (open admissions, low English and math skills) affect retention for each of the programs? What are the lessons to be learned? The following major works informed my study: Tinto, Leaving College (1993); Astin, Preventing Students From Dropping Out (1975); Astin, What Matters in College (1993); Grubb, Working in the Middle (1996); and various theoretical works of Pascarella and Terenzini. The following methods were utilized to answer my research questions: (1) Document Review: I reviewed and analyzed student demographic data, program characteristics, class rosters of the two programs, drop and termination reports by quarter, and other pertinent documents that track and report student retention data. (2) Participant Observation: I observed, and took notes, at the regularly scheduled meetings of the different committees that are responsible for and involved in the student retention process. (3) Interviews: I conducted interviews with ten administrators, ten faculty members from each program, and fifteen randomly selected students from each program. (4) Outcome Data Analysis: I analyzed relevant data from the registrar and finance offices such as graduation rates, student GPAs, financial aid awards, and remedial class participation. My findings include the following: Students who matriculate with a strong academic preparation are more likely to graduate in both programs than those who have deficiencies in English and math. Student and faculty relationships play a significant role in integrating students into the academic and social life of the institution and thus in retaining students. The nature of the two-year sub-baccalaureate job market has a significant impact on student retention by requiring a completed degree for employment in the case of industrial design and by not requiring a completed degree for employment in the case of photography.

Subject Area

Higher education|Community colleges|Academic guidance counseling

Recommended Citation

Sauchuk, Sergio Benjamin, "A case study of student retention in two programs at a two -year for -profit institution of post-secondary education" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3092048.