Why Some Students Stay and Others Drop Out

Report: “Can Psychosocial Factors Predict First-Year College Retention Beyond Standard Indicators?” (report not yet available online)

Authors: David R. King, a doctoral student in psychology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Edwin Ndum, of the statistical-research department at ACT Inc.

Organizations: Georgia Institute of Technology, ACT Inc.

Summary: The researchers analyzed 10 “psychosocial factors” of 9,364 students at 31 institutions to determine whether those factors had influenced first-year retention and, if so, whether the analysis could predict which students stayed enrolled, dropped out, or transferred.


  • The psychosocial factors—academic discipline, communication skills, social connection, etc.—did appear to be correlated with retention. Students who stayed at their original institutions tended to have higher scores on the factors, while those who transferred or dropped out tended to have lower scores.
  • Students with higher scores in the psychosocial factors of academic discipline, commitment to college, and social connection, in particular, were more likely to stay at their original colleges than to drop out or transfer.
  • High scores in the psychosocial factors of goal striving, social activity, study skills, and steadiness were not necessarily related to retention. In social activity, for instance, students with moderate scores had the highest rates of retention.

Bottom Line: Analyzing students’ psychosocial factors along with standard indicators like high-school grade-point average and family income, the researchers suggested, may provide colleges with a more-precise assessment of which students are at risk of transferring or dropping out, and could help institutions design effective interventions to increase those students’ likelihood of staying enrolled.

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