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  • 1

    THE CONSEQUENCES OF STUDENT RETENTION STRATEGIES: A CASE STUDY AT METROPOLITAN COLLEGE

    by

    Sean M. Sullivan

    A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment

    Of the Requirements for the Degree

    Doctor of Education

    in the field of

    Higher Education Administration

    College of Professional Studies Northeastern University Boston, Massachusetts

    December 2017

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    Abstract

    College and university retention research indicates that institutional financial concerns, student

    behaviors, and organizational ethics all play a role in how educational officials make retention-

    based strategy decisions. However, gaps in the literature exist involving the interconnection

    between the acknowledgement of an enrollment issue, the corresponding creation of retention

    strategies, and the resulting comprehensive campus environment post-strategy implementation.

    This research study explored the impact of institutional retention strategies at one particular Mid-

    Atlantic college during a period of enrollment instability from 2010 through 2014. Specifically,

    this study reviewed the unintended consequences that developed as a result of the broad retention

    tactics used during this five-year period. Further, this research study investigated whether or not

    institutional values and/or operational interests were truly accounted for when designing and

    implementing these retention strategies. The researcher noted that these retention strategies

    contributed to secondary issues, which, in turn, may have undermined the institution’s original

    retention objectives. By investigating the comprehensive impact of institutional retention

    strategy implementation, this study produced information that can be used at other colleges and

    universities when contemplating retention initiatives and best practices.

    Keywords: higher education, retention, persistence, attrition, enrollment management,

    student consumerism, and economic crisis

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    Dedication

    I dedicate this thesis to my grandfather, Dr. Neil V. Sullivan.

    Little did you know, that by encouraging a young boy more than thirty years ago to one

    day pursue a doctoral degree, you lit a spark of inspiration that has rumbled inside of me for

    decades. Your career as an educator was largely defined by integrating schools across the

    country. We have been so extremely proud of you. However, what has stayed with me long after

    your passing was your sincere commitment to the betterment of others; whether that be your

    grandson or the disenfranchised and disregarded. Throughout this seven-year doctoral pursuit, I

    have often thought of you and the values you represented. It is my hope now, that armed with the

    degree and experiences we talked about so many years ago, I too can aid others who may be in

    need. You continue to inspire me, and the many lives you touched continue to benefit from your

    thoughtfulness and courage. We all thank you for that gift.

    With love and admiration,

    Sean

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    Acknowledgements

    There have been many people throughout this doctoral journey that contributed to its

    successful conclusion. I must thank my professional colleagues from California, Pennsylvania,

    Massachusetts, and now Washington, D.C., for their support of what seemed years ago to be a

    far-fetched idea. By offering your reassurance that I would finish this degree, you helped validate

    my decision to pursue such an objective and gave me much-needed strength. Thank you.

    This final stage of the program is undoubtedly its most difficult. It can often be a very

    lonely, if not solitary experience – just you and your research. However, Dr. Bryan Patterson, my

    thesis adviser, knew how to settle me down time and again when I was unsure of how to proceed.

    Thank you for your confidence in my research. To the other fantastic members of my committee

    – Dr. Jan Arminio and Dr. Al McCready – many thanks for helping to shape my research and for

    encouraging me to go deeper, in order to make my final product sharper.

    I am grateful for the support I have received and felt from my parents, Michael and

    Christine. I may have wobbled from time to time, but you both always expressed nothing but

    extreme confidence in me. That made a difference. Thank you. And to my mother, Susan, one of

    these days, we’ll get to talk about all that I have learned and what perhaps remains to be

    uncovered. Do know that you’ve been with me every step of the way. I miss you.

    Lastly, all of this comes back to the support I have received from my wife, Jennifer. Your

    constant encouragement and reservoir of patience were crucial to my ability to ultimately earn

    this degree. I cannot thank you enough for sticking with me. You have made a life-long goal of

    mine possible. And to Ryan and Olivia, two little gifts welcomed along the way, thank you for

    keeping your voices down and for sticking with Mommy on those many days Daddy “had to do

    work.” As luck would have it, Daddy can now come out and play with you.

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    Table of Contents

    Abstract ........................................................................................................................................... 2

    Dedication....................................................................................................................................... 3

    Acknowledgements......................................................................................................................... 4

    Table of Contents............................................................................................................................ 5

    List of Tables .................................................................................................................................. 8

    List of Figures ................................................................................................................................. 9

    Chapter 1: Introduction................................................................................................................. 10

    Statement of the Problem.................................................................................................. 10

    Significance of the Research Problem .............................................................................. 11

    Positionality Statement ..................................................................................................... 12

    Research Questions........................................................................................................... 16

    Concepts of Chosen Theoretical Framework.................................................................... 17

    Definition of Key Terms................................................................................................... 20

    Chapter Summary ............................................................................................................. 21

    Chapter 2: Literature Review........................................................................................................ 23

    Organization of Literature Review ................................................................................... 23

    Background....................................................................................................................... 24

    Theoretical Framework..................................................................................................... 27

    Student Attrition ............................................................................................................... 33

    Today’s College Students and How They are Viewed ..................................................... 45

    Retention Practices ........................................................................................................... 50

    Literature Review Summary............................................................................................. 66

    Chapter Summary ............................................................................................................. 68

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    Chapter 3: Research Design.......................................................................................................... 69

    Primary Research Question and Subordinate Questions .................................................. 69

    Methodology..................................................................................................................... 70

    Research Design Overview............................................................................................... 72

    Data Collection ................................................................................................................. 80

    Data Management ............................................................................................................. 84

    Trustworthiness................................................................................................................. 87

    Threats to Integrity of the Research...............................