Degree Name

PHD, Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies


Committee Chair - Shouping Hu

Committee Member - Joseph Beckham

Committee Member - Robert Schwartz

Outside Committee Member - Diana Rice




Student retention, persistence, and graduation have been essential issues in contemporary American higher education. In recent years, the public and public policy makers have been particularly concerned with the measure of six-year graduation rates. However, there does not seem to be an adequate amount of statistically rigorous research with a specific focus on six-year graduation rate, though some national studies pertain to this topic. In addition, research on college student retention, traditionally focused on early dropouts, has paid scant attention to students who drop out late in their college career, or who stay for extended periods of time in college. The purpose of this study is to explore first-time full-time (FTFT) college students that begin at a four-year institution seeking a bachelor’s degree, stay at least for four years, but do not graduate within six years at their initial institution, and to investigate factors associated with their non-graduation behavior.

The study is guided by two overarching research questions: 1) What factors are related to graduation within six years for FTFT students who are still enrolled at their initial institution in the fourth year? 2) What factors are related to dropout after four years and what factors related to continued enrollment beyond six years? Data for this quantitative research were collected from a public university in a Southeastern state of the United States. The final sample is consisted of 1,990 students who were enrolled in the fourth year at the university. The outcome for Research Question 1 has two categories: graduation and non-graduation within six years, with the latter being the reference category. The outcome for Research Question 2 has three categories: graduation, late dropout, and extended enrollment, with graduation being the reference. Accordingly, the statistical models for the two research questions are binary logistic regression and multinomial logistic regression, respectively.

The effects of the following sets of independent variables were examined: 1) demographic background: gender, ethnicity, entering age, and residency status; 2) precollege academic preparation: high school GPA, SAT Math score, and SAT Verbal score; 3) college experience: first-year housing status, number of terms enrolled over the first 3 years, attendance pattern first 3 years, major field change over four years, fourth-year major field, fourth-year course load, and four-year cumulative college GPA; and 4) financial aid: fourth-year financial aid status. The financial aid variable was specified in four alternative approaches in this study: aid package, aid amount for each aid type, receiving aid (Yes=1 or No=0), and aggregate aid amount. Aid types included loan, grant, work/study, state merit aid, and other (athletic and private scholarships).

This research results in the following major findings: 1) Enrollment behavior variables, college major field, and four-year college GPA had highly significant impacts on graduation within six years, late dropout, and extended enrollment; 2) Student demographic characteristics and financial aid did not have significant direct impacts on graduation within six years; 3) Students with a higher SAT Math score were more likely to drop out late or extend enrollment than their peers with a lower SAT Math score; 4) Students who majored in the field of science in the fourth year were more likely than their peers who majored in arts and business to drop out late or extend enrollment beyond the sixth year; and 5) Receiving a higher amount of athletic and private scholarships in the fourth year was associated with a higher likelihood of dropping out late. These findings have practical implications for state and institutional educational policy, and theoretical ramifications for college student retention theory and research.


Open Access