A Pathway Towards Persistence: A Grounded Theory of High-Risk First-Year Students
Barry, Courtney L. (author)
Turner, Jeannine E. (Jeannine Ellen) (professor directing dissertation)
Schwartz, Robert A. (university representative)
Losh, Susan Carol (committee member)
Lenz, Janet G. (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Education (degree granting college)
Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems (degree granting department)
Retention research has been empirically studied for over 70 years (Attewell, Heil, & Reisel, 2011; Bowen, 2009; Braxton, 2000; Goldrick-Rab & Roksa, 2008; Nora, Barlow & Crisp, 2005; Turner, 2004), yet there is minimal research describing high-risk students' perceptions and learning that occurred after being placed on academic probation after their first semester of college and mandated to complete an academic strategies course during their second semester. The purpose of this study was to explore first-year students' perceptions of being placed on academic probation as they adjust to college and completing a mandated academic strategies course at a large public postsecondary institution in the Southeast. This study employed grounded theory methods to understand how students interpret their academic failure after being placed on academic probation and mandated to take an academic strategy course. The research framework was guided by Tinto's (1975) theory of student departure that suggests students who connect both academically and socially in a college environment will persist to degree attainment. College students may have negative experiences after entering college and experiencing academic failure, e.g., earning below a 2.0 GPA, during their first semester. Because these students are still transitioning into the academic environment, they may be at greater risk for attrition than students who have not experienced initial academic failure. This research explored 14 students' perceptions of experiencing academic failure and their perceived learning that occurred in their second semester. Students who earn below a 2.0 GPA at this particular university are placed on academic probation and mandated to take a 1-unit (12 week) course that focuses on teaching students academic skills, such as learning strategies, time management, and self-regulation strategies, and therefore provides a unique situation to explore students' adjustment to college. Data collection consisted of individual in-depth interviews conducted with a majority Caucasian sample of 14 students in their second semester of college. The result was the emergence of a theory of college transition grounded in the perspectives and experiences of the students. Results identified ways students evaluated their experiences with academic failure and identified how students may or may not be using strategies (e.g., learning or volitional) while experiencing transition in college. The results also indicated the positive influence family relationships and academic strategies course instructors had on high-risk first-year students' motivation to persist towards a college degree. The findings are relevant for prospective first-year and current students, as well as for parents, college administrators, and faculty. This research also has implications for retention services and student affairs practice. Finally, the findings inform both theory development and future research, particularly transition theory.
college students, first-year, high-risk, learning strategies, persistence, retention
April 24, 2015.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Jeannine Turner, Professor Directing Dissertation; Robert A. Schwartz, University Representative; Susan Losh, Committee Member; Janet Lenz, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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