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Identifying Attrition Risks and Evaluating Interventions in Nursing Students at a Community College

Author: Devadatta V. Tata, MS, MBA

Primary Advisor: Craig W. Johnson, PhD

Committee Members:

Masters thesis, The University of Texas School of Biomedical Informatics at Houston.


In recent years, there has been a growing demand to cater to the vast number of high school graduates pursuing undergraduate studies. In a paper addressing Student Support Services in a community college, Cooper (Cooper, 2010)has emphasized the benefits of a community college setting citing   open-admission policies, convenient locations, course schedules, close relationships with local business and industry, and lower costs relative to other institutions. Cooper highlights these factors in explaining increased accessibility to community colleges for millions of students.  However, providing facilities alone does not guarantee the success of students once they are enrolled. In the recent past, there has been a growing concern regarding student attrition and loss of students prior to completion of academic programs. Efforts to develop and implement ameliorative procedures directed towards nursing and health sciences education programs have been described by (Johnson, Johnson, Kim, & McKee, 2009).

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education (2002) found that among students who enroll in community colleges with the intent to earn a credential/degree or to transfer to a four year institution, almost one-half do not reach this goal within six years.  The median and mean first-year to second-year retention rate reported by community colleges was 56% and the median degree completion rate reported was 23% (ACT, 2010). Furthermore, it has been shown that over 59% of students in community colleges will need to enroll in at least one developmental education course(Bailey, 2009).

Studies in the past have suggested that to identify and reduce attrition and early drop outs, it is imperative that cognitive and noncognitive factors be addressed (Clewell, deCohen, Deterding, & Tsui, 2006; Tracey & Sedlacek, 1984). A number of authorities have indicated that regular faculty-student contact is the most important factor in student involvement and motivation. Faculty can provide students with needed support to get through tough times and keep working towards academic success (Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Glennen & Vowell, 1995).  Current community college retention and graduation percentages are not sustainable nor are they meeting the supply needs of our health system to address the demands for quality service.  While there are a myriad of factors that influence graduation rates at the community college level, one of the simple solutions is to focus institutional efforts towards student retention programs that could result in student success.

Retention programs come in a variety of approaches.  Institutional support service programs include academic, social, and financial support.  These programs are often aimed at tutoring academic subjects, implementing skill-based and career workshops, and providing counseling for class  scheduling or advice on personal matters (ACT, 2010). For  top Community Colleges, advising and student assessment were among the top 10 practices and services offered, as well as  among the top 9 practices that make the greatest contribution to retention (ACT, 2010). Review of the literature on the impact of counseling on student retention, found that counseling increases retention of students with high dropout risk factors(Summers, 2003). Research also indicates that students who have more meaningful and frequent interactions with advisors in the first year of enrollment significantly increase their chances of retention (Jaeger & Eagan, 2010). Despite having recommendations encouraging retention measures, many institutional academic service programs lack effective means and methods towards reducing attrition (ACT, 2010). 

Given the above theoretical and empirical context, the Personal Background Preparation Survey (PBPS) instrument has been designed to early identify and diagnose student risks for academic success and recommend interventions for amelioration and subsequent prevention of progression into non-advancement and attrition.

For this study, the PBPS was administered along with two other commonly employed testing methods for nursing students, which are the HESI and the Hardiness Tests. Further information about these testing methods is provided later in the paper.  This paper addresses the degree to which PBPS, HESI, and Hardiness Scale covariates; and jump start, counseling, retention, and tutoring interventions; predict adverse academic status events (AASE) and non-advancement adverse academic status events (NAASE) for 1st-semester and 2nd-semester students enrolled in a community college nursing school.