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California Community College Student Outcomes Abroad Research Project


Strategies for Impacting Retention and Success

Renowned and often-cited higher education scholar Vincent Tinto, known for his theories on college student engagement, has classified student retention as a common issue among colleges and universities that warrants more attention among institutional actors than has been given. While Tinto acknowledges that student attributes beyond the control of institutions, such as personality, drive, and motivation, are an important component to student retention, colleges and universities are able to create conditions or environments that can increase the odds that students will persist. Tinto argues that by admitting students to their institutions, campuses are obligated to establish opportunities for students to succeed. He suggests that the conditions and environments currently in place at institutions, as well as the past decisions to implement them, serve as evidence that institutions are capable of taking action to increase student retention. If colleges and universities are serious about student retention, they must work to establish supportive social and academic communities for their students.

Tinto outlines five conditions that support college student retention: expectations, advice, support, involvement, and learning.

Tinto's 5 Conditions for College Student Retention
Students are more likely to persist when they are expected to succeed. High expectations are a condition for success.
Students are more likely to persist when provided with clear and consistent information about institutional requirements and effective advising about the choices students must make about their program and career goals.
Students are more likely to persist when provided academic, social, and personal support. Most students, especially in their first year, require some form of support.
Students are more likely to persist when involved as valued members of their institution. The frequency and quality of contact with faculty, staff, and other students are important predictors of persistence.
Students are more likely to persist when learning is fostered. Learning is the important key to student retention, as students who learn are those who persist.

According to Alexander Astin (1999), student involvement is the key to college student success. Students must invest a sufficient level of effort if they are to achieve the learning and development goals expected of them. Astin defines student involvement as the amount of physical and psychological energy that a student devotes to their academic experience. Involvement stresses the active participation of students in their learning.

Educators are urged to focus on how motivated their students are and how much time and energy they are devoting to learning. Because student time is a precious resource, the extent to which students can develop is a direct product of the time and effort they put forth.

Astin conceives of involvement as containing the following components:

Astin's 5 Postulates to Student Involvement
  1. Involvement refers to the investment of physical and psychological energy in various objects. The objects may be highly generalized (the student experience) or highly specific (preparing for a chemistry examination).
  2. Regardless of its object, involvement occurs along a continuum; that is, different students manifest different degrees of involvement in a given object, and the same student manifests different degrees of involvement in different objects at different times.
  3. Involvement has both quantitative and qualitative features. The extent of a studentís involvement in academic work, for instance, can be measured quantitatively (how many hours the student spends studying) and qualitatively (whether the student reviews and comprehends reading assignments or simply stares at the textbook and daydreams).
  4. The amount of student learning and personal development associated with any educational program is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of student involvement in that program.
  5. The effectiveness of any educational policy or practice is directly related to the capacity of that policy or practice to increase student involvement.

George D. Kuh has used empirical data to further explore the involvement construct, which he termed "student engagement". Kuh has suggested student engagement to encompass quality student participation in curricular and co-curricular activities that are effective in promoting desirable college outcomes. Furthermore, steps exist that higher education institutions can take to better promote student participation in these activities, thereby increasing their engagement.

Listed below are high–impact educational experiences that Kuh has identified as possessing substantial promise, in addition to the characteristics these experiences have in common (Click here to read about what he says about college personnel promoting student engagement).

High-Impact Educational Experiences
  • First-year seminars and experiences
  • Common intellectual experiences
  • Learning communities
  • Writing intensive courses
  • Collaborative assignments and projects
  • Undergraduate research
  • Diversity/global learning
  • Service learning/community-based learning
  • Internships
  • Capstone courses and projects
Common Characteristics of High-Impact Practices
  • Deepened commitment through purposeful tasks
  • Extended and substantive interactions with faculty and peers
  • Interactions with people who are different than themselves
  • Frequent feedback to student performance
  • Apply what students learn in different settings
  • Life changing experiences

Please reference the following pages to see ways in which college faculty and staff can encourage the retention and engagement of their students:


  1. A. W. (1999). Student Involvement: A Developmental Theory for Higher Education. Journal of College Student Development, 40(5): 518-529.
  2. Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges and Universities.
  3. Tinto, V. (2010). "From Theory to Action: Exploring the Institutional Conditions for Student Retention". In Smart, J. C. (Ed.), Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 25, 51-89.
  4. Tinto, V. (n.d.). Taking Student Retention Seriously.