Why student retention fails to assure quality

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Research and Development in Higher Education: Quality Conversations Vol. 25

July, 2002, 794 pages
Published by
Tony Herrington
0 908557 54 X

Can data on student retention be used to validly infer anything about the quality of the educational experiences offered to students? The question is important because universities are using data about retention rates to inform quality management initiatives without any theoretically grounded understanding of the relationship between student retention and educational quality. The lack of scrutiny of the use of attrition data to demonstrate educational quality is symptomatic of a broader problem, namely that ‘quality indicators’ are proposed without adequate regard for educational research that is readily available and might caution against their use. Although it has been recognised that the issue of student attrition is complex and that multiple factors influence student attrition, this has not been adequately considered when student attrition data has been claimed as a quality indicator for higher education. Before student retention can be accepted as a valid indicator of educational quality it must satisfy certain requirements. Crucially, it must be possible to describe a continuous theoretical path that explains the relationship between student attrition and an acceptable definition of quality. This paper will examine whether the models that claim to explain student attrition are theoretically coherent and whether they can be used as the basis of a model that will link retention rates to educational quality. The results of this analysis illustrate a process that may be applied to test the theoretical sufficiency of other proposed quality indicators.

Keywords: Student Attrition, Higher Education, Quality

Why student retention fails to assure quality

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Cooper, T.