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Attitudes of Second-Year College Students That Influence College Completion

Nationally, 23 percent of college students fail to complete a degree despite completing their first year of college; a recent study asked second-year college students to identify the reasons why

July 28, 2015—In response to the growing call to increase college completion rates, many campus officials focus attention on first-year college students who are known to leave college at the highest rates. However, a new study from Ruffalo Noel Levitz unmasks the widespread assumption that second-year students have successfully transitioned to college. The new study builds on the national research from ACT which shows national college incompletion rates of 55 percent, the inverse of the 45 percent graduation rate, despite only 32 percent student attrition between the first and second year of college (Source: 2015 ACT National College Retention and Persistence-to-Degree Rates, pages 3 and 7).

In the new 2015 study—Attitudes of Second-Year College Students That Influence College Completion—second-year student respondents identified a range of motivational attitudes and issues that help explain why some students leave college mid-way to completion. To share their viewpoints, students completed the noncognitive survey, the Second-Year Student Assessment™.

Among the highlights:

  • Only three-quarters of second-year students across sectors (two-year and four-year colleges and universities combined, public and private) reported being able to concentrate and keep their thoughts organized during an exam.
  • Only two-thirds of second-year students at two-year public institutions and four-year public institutions were able to affirm the statement, “I have many friends and feel at home here.”
  • Only a slight majority of respondents across sectors, led by male students, indicated they had the financial resources they needed to finish college.
  • Many second-year students across sectors were interested in gaining work experiences related to their major. However, students across sectors tended to be dissatisfied with the availability of work experiences associated with their career interests.
  • Nine percent of respondents from four-year private institutions, 17 percent of respondents from four-year public institutions, and 51 percent of respondents from two-year public institutions reported that they were undecided about continuing their enrollment or planned to transfer to another institution.
  • Despite the nine percent just referenced, nearly one-quarter of respondents from four-year private institutions (25 percent) expressed interest in discussing “transfer issues,” a continuation, and increase, from the 19 percent of students at four-year private institutions who reported that they discussed issues related to transferring with an advisor during their first year of college.

“To develop a relevant retention strategy, it is important to look beyond the first year and beyond course completion rates,” notes Dr. Mari Normyle, assistant vice president for retention solutions at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. “By examining noncognitive indicators of attrition, we’ve learned that many second-year students are struggling to concentrate on their studies and are searching for new friendships, practical work experiences in their area of career interest, and financial solutions for their educational and living expenses and debt. The data also show a reluctance to receive assistance from their institutions that is more pronounced among sophomore males.”

The new Ruffalo Noel Levitz study, Attitudes of Second-Year College Students, includes suggestions for translating the findings into action. The study is based on 5,101 student survey responses from students attending 55 colleges and universities nationwide in 2013 and 2014. For a copy of the 20-page report, visit www.ruffalonl.com/SecondYearReport. For a related article focused on the substantial attrition that occurs in the second year of college, visit http://blog.noellevitz.com/2015/06/05/create-1st-4th-semester-plan-student-success-retention/.

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About Ruffalo Noel Levitz

Ruffalo Noel Levitz is a nationally recognized consulting firm focused on higher education enrollment management, student success, and fundraising. Since 1973, Ruffalo Noel Levitz has partnered with more than 3,000 colleges and universities throughout North America. Ruffalo Noel Levitz has offices in Colorado and Iowa. For more information, visit www.RuffaloNL.com.

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