LITERATURE REVIEW: Theories on Student Attrition

1259 Words6 Pages
LITERATURE REVIEW: Theories on Student Attrition

Since the early 70s theorists have pondered the causes of college dropout. Generally referred to as “student attrition,” this problem has spurred numerous causal theories and theoretical models. Vincent Tinto led the research with his revolutionary 1973 study, which he later revised (1987) amid criticism from other luminaries in the field, most notably Bean, Astin, Terenzini, and Pascarella. It is on the work of these scholars (including also Tinto) that all modern research in the student attrition field is based. I found and will review in brief some of the extensive research from Tinto to the present, including the basic criticisms therein. I will further explain the steps some colleges are currently taking to counteract this increasingly important issue.

Little or no research was conducted on student attrition prior to Tinto, and every piece of research I found contained several references to him and his work. Ishitani and DesJardins claim that the majority of research on the subject has been based on Tinto’s model (7), as does Metz in his research review (4). Metz, however, goes on to assert that Tinto’s main source was a certain Rites of Passage, by Arnold van Gennep. Focusing on the anthropological perspective of human “rites of passage,” van Gennep’s study elucidates the basic human nature behind much of the college experience. Tinto primarily utilizes the chapter entitled “Initiation Rites” in his model, a chapter in which van Gennep claims “that physiological puberty and ‘social puberty’ are essentially different” (Gennep 65). Tinto sees the transition from high school to college as a form of this “social puberty.” Tinto further argues that the maturation process is “marked by three distinct phases or stages, each with its own specialized ceremonies and rituals…[e]ach serv[ing] to move individuals from youthful participation to full adult membership in society” (Tinto 92). College, according to van Gennep and Tinto therefore, is simply part of this sociological maturation process.

Tinto’s original theory involved five specific factors that contributed to student retention: (1) a student’s pre-entry attributes (prior schooling and family background); (2) goals and commitment (the student’s individual aspirations in the institution); (3) experience at the institution (academics and faculty and peer interactions); (4) external commitments while at the institution; (5) integration both academically and socially (Metz 4).
Open Document