June 3, 2008
Factors Affecting Students’ Retention at Kuwait University
By AlKandari, Nabila
This article addresses the factors that affect students' retention at Kuwait University. Five hundred seventy students participated in the study. A survey of 22 retention factors was designed to measure student perceptions. Students presented their agreement on factors which included: achieving personal aspiration, getting jobs, free-of-charge education, acquiring social class, developing skills, achieving academic merit in a field of study, high standard reputation of the university, and feeling one belongs to the university No statistical differences were found among the students' responses according to their colleges, marital status, grade point average, numbers of academic warning, and citizenship status. However, first-year students reported that these factors influence their retention better than other class levels. Increasing student retention is becoming a significant issue in most higher education institutions, specifically for the institutions that face a high drop-out rate. Barefoot (2004) stated that most universities and US colleges face a high rate of first and second year student attrition. For some universities, this issue may negatively affect their economic level, whereas students' fees and tuitions increase the financial revenue of the institution.Although increasing student retention has a positive effect on the institution's academic side, the most important concern should focus on the effectiveness of the preparation of the student's academic level to provide the community with valuable professionals for work needs, and to participate in the improvement and development of different arenas.
To work toward increasing student retention in higher education institutions, administrators have the responsibility of providing students with an effective academic and non-academic environment that will positively motivate students to persist with their studies and achieve desirable progress in developing their personalities. Bailey and Alfonso (2005) reported that accreditation agencies and state regulators are able to measure community college students' outcomes by tracking their persistence and completion rates.
Review of Literature
Providing students with multiple and effective services is a significant element to increase student retention. Most higher education institutions are focusing their attention toward this issue and implementing strategies to reduce student attrition. One of these institutions is Shasta College in the state of California. According to Hindes, Horn, and Brookshaw (2002), this college launched several strategies to overcome the high rate of attrition of its freshmen students. One of these strategies is WAVES (Win by Achieving Valuable Essential Skills). A second strategy is SPLASH (Seminar Program for Learning Achievement and Skills in Higher Education). The weekend program focuses on developing workshops to help students deal with math anxiety, writing papers, finding a job, and managing financial matters.
The availability of multiple students' services also has a great impact on increasing retention. One of these services is advising and counseling (Bailey & Alfonso, 2005). According to Destefano, Petersen, Skwerer, and Bickel (2001), a major function of counseling centers is developing a service for multicultural students. The positive effect of the counseling center is ensured also by Turner and Berry's (2000) study; they reported that the retention rate of counseled clients was higher than the general student retention rate (85.2% vs. 73.8%).
Providing students with a tutoring service is also important for the students' academic progress. Tait (2004) found that tutors have a valuable role hi student retention in open and distance learning and suggested institutional policies to provide tutors with professional developmental opportunities. In addition, living- learning centers have a positive impact on students' persistence, as Edwards and McKelfresh (2002) noted. However, Kerkvliet and Nowell (2005) found that increased advising and mentoring have no effect on increasing student academic integration, and found also that higher wages help students in work-study financial aid. The study findings also reported that taking grants do not encourage student retention at Oregon State University, but it supported retention at Weber State University. Taking loans also influenced student retention negatively at community colleges (Dowd & Coury, 2006). Furthermore, Nippert (2000/2001) pointed out several factors that influenced students' attainment in twoyear colleges. These factors included: high school academic record, gender, hours of employment, academic activities, grade point average, and student's decision for enrollment. It is clear from these studies that student retention has great consideration by many institutions. Therefore, several studies implemented to investigate the factors, and provide strategies for resolving the issue.
Since student retention has become a critical concern of many international higher education institutions, the researcher has considered the importance of exploring the perceptions of students attending Kuwait University and how these factors affect their retention at the university. The findings of the study could help university administrators identify the reasons that encourage students to persevere with their studies and also develop policies and strategies for encouraging students to obtain their degrees.
The research questions posed by this study included:
1. What are the factors that affect students' retention at Kuwait University?
2. Are there differences in the responses according to students' gender, college, marital status, studying year level, grade point average, academic warning numbers, and citizenship status?
Five hundred seventy students were randomly selected from Kuwait University to participate in the study during the spring of 2006. Male and female students from different arts, humanities, and scientific colleges were selected to measure the differences among their perceptions. Table 1 presents the participants' demographics information and percentages.
The researcher developed 22 items of retention factors to measure students' perceptions. The statements were presented on a 5-point Likert-type scale (5 = strongly agree, 1 = strongly disagree). Content validity was established through a review of the questionnaire by some faculty members. Reliability validity was also established. The value of Chronbach's alpha was .85, indicating the high reliability of the scale. The questionnaire was distributed in different colleges in the university during the spring semester in 2006.
To explore students' perceptions of factors affecting their retention in the university, means and standard deviations were used. Both t test and one-way ANOVA were used with the confidence level set at p
Research Finding Related to Students Perceptions of Retention Factors: As shown in Table 2, factors affecting students' retention are presented in descending order according to mean. Research findings determined that achieving personal aspiration to get a university degree was the greatest factor that affected students' retention at Kuwait University. The response received a mean of 4.59. Getting a job and studying at a university without the burden of payment got an equal mean of 4.41. The study's findings also presented that the students continued their studies at the university because they wanted to achieve social prestige and desired to develop specific skills for jobs in which to serve the society. Both responses received a mean of 4.38. The students also desired to achieve an academic merit in their field of study (M = 4.29), and were interested in improving their cultural, knowledge, and scientific levels (M = 4.24); therefore, they preferred to complete their studies at the university. Other academic factors were presented such as eligibility to pass midterm and final exams, and the suitability of the field of study with the students' intellectual abilities.
The interesting finding of the study presented that the university's reputation in the society was among the elements that encouraged students' determination (M = 4.00). The means of the previous factors reflected that the students have significant agreement of their effect on their retention at Kuwait University.
Another interesting factor that increased student retention at the university was availability of human relationships with faculty members, and the encouragement by the university leaders to have the students follow their academic study successfully in different fields. In general, it was found that the students have positive agreement on the most previous items as factors that contribute on their persistence at Kuwait University.
Research Findings According to Students' Gender, Colleges, and Marital Status. A t test analysis indicated that there were significant statistical differences according to students' gender (t =-.872, p = .004). However, a t test analysis indicated that there were no significant statistical differences according to students' colleges (t = -.745, p = .482), and marital status (t = -.24,p = .673), which reflects that these students are affected similarly by the retention factors. Research Findings According to Students' Studying Year Level, Grade Point Average, Numbers of Academic Warning, and Citizenship Status. A one-way ANOVA analysis indicated that there were significant statistical differences among students of different studying level of years (F = 4.155, p = .001). First- year students achieved the highest mean.
However, a one-way ANOVA analysis indicated that there were no significant statistical differences found among the students' responses according to their grade point average (F = 1.739, p = .158), numbers of academic warning (F = 2.887, p = .57), and citizenship status (F = 2.098, p = .124). These findings reflect that these students have similar perceptions of the retention factors.
Discussion and Implications
The study's findings demonstrate that the students have positive point of views regarding the majority of factors presented that affect their retention at Kuwait University. The aspiration to obtain a degree is perceived as a significant contributing factor that affects the students' decision to persist in their studies; this reflects that the students firmly believed a university degree was crucial to achieve their purpose in life following their education. This finding was supported by Watson, Johnson, and Austin (2004), who stated that some first-year students reported that they continued their education to achieve personal inspiration.
Studying at most higher education institutions is costly, which may affect student retention. According to Christie, Munro, and Fisher (2004), and Wilcox, Winn, and Fyvie-Gauld (2005), some students do not continue their studies because they face financial pressure. Kerkvliet and Nowell (2005) indicated that taking grants do not encourage student persistence. However, this study's findings indicated that the students are not responsible for fees and tuition at Kuwait University; the university is under the auspices of the government and free of charge. Therefore, most students benefit from this opportunity to continue their studies without financial pressure.
Most students indicated a surprising factor that affected their retention: they perceived that a university degree would give them prestige in society. In fact, this factor may lead some students to get the degree without the benefit from academic study.
Most higher education institutions pursue developing students' skills and abilities to improve their personalities. This study's finding supports this claim; most students pointed out that they remain in school because they are looking to develop the skills that are needed for the specific job to serve the society in different fields. The students' ability to succeed in midterms and final exams is also perceived as a factor for their retention. Passing required credits would greatly motivate students to continue their studies. This study suggests the importance of giving exams that meet different intellectual skills of the students. For instance, some students prefer essay exams; however, some may prefer objective exams, which include multiple-choice or true and false questions.
Most students also indicated that the fields of the study must meet their intellectual abilities. This study's findings support the study by Watson et al. (2004), which reported that some students select their majors because they have previous experience and are interested in the specialization. Sanders and Burton (1996) reported that those students who continue are satisfied with their academic experience. Accordingly, this study suggests the importance of giving the students opportunities to select the field that meets their intellectual skills, which will help them attain desirable academic achievement. This would lead to student retention and maintain the university's purposes, which is to focus on providing knowledgeable and experienced professionals in various fields to improve and develop the society.
Using different teaching methods is a factor in developing students' intellectual abilities. A good faculty member should be an educator who understands students' personal differences and use teaching methods that positively affect student learning and success. For instance, Yu and Liu (2005) found that using a multiple- choice question construction in physics experimentation improved students' study habits, communication skills, and retention.
The current study's findings also indicated that the students are attracted to the university because of its high standards and reputation in the society. Therefore, they would prefer to obtain their degree from this university. This finding would appear to be contradictory to the study of Sanders and Burton (1996), which reported that 19% of non-continuing students agreed that attending DePaul was the right choice.
The courses' academic activities also affect student retention. As Szafran (2001) pointed out, taking difficult courses resulted in decreasing the GPA and retention of the first-year students. In contrast, this study's finding indicated that the students presented the academic demands of courses positively affected their retention.
This study suggested that the university administration should be aware of students' needs of different services and make them available, specifically the services related to students' academic success such as academic writing, research tutorials, and academic tutorials. The services should focus on developing students' practical skills and abilities in their major fields by using teaching assistance staff (TAs), for example.
This study's findings also indicated that the friend relationship in the university community encouraged retention. This finding supports Wilcox et al.'s (2005) study, who found that friendships affect positively student retention.
Furthermore, the students reported that having a good relationship with faculty members had a great impact on their retention. This finding supports the study of DeShields, Kara, and Kaynak (2005), who found a significant correlation between faculty and students' experience. When faculty members deal with students effectively, including respect, appreciation, and encouragement, this would encourage students to study.
Giving students financial awards has been determined to be very important. The university offered rewards to some students who met the requirements of these awards such as a social award. This award may encourage students to persist, and they can benefit from this financial aid to purchase the academic program requirements such as books, tools, and personal needs.
In addition to the previous factors that contribute to increasing students' retention at the university, some students indicated that attending different kinds of extra-curricula activities, such as exhibitions, seminars, poetry presentation, cultural weeks, and the like, encouraged their retention. Since the students may spend their free time attending extracurricular activities, this finding suggests that the university administration should consider the importance of increasing different activities that interest the students. This finding supports the study of Christie et al. (2004), who repotted that the continuing and non-continuing students at Glasgow Caledonian University were more satisfied with the university social environment, where they could meet people and become involved in student activities.
Moreover, the students have demonstrated that family pressure has a moderate effect on their decision to continue their studies. Actually, some families may have a positive effect on encouraging their members to follow their study even if they do not prefer to do so. This finding is not consistent with that of Christie et al. (2004), who indicated that the non-continuing students at Heriot- Watt University believed that living with families had a negative influence on their retention at the university.
The current study's findings indicated that male and female students perceived that the retention factors affected their retention not similarly. It could be an indication that males are less satisfied with the university than females. However, females may find that university environment is attractive and supportive for attainment to obtain a degree.
Also, the current study findings presented that marital status has no effect on student retention, this reflects that the students have profound intention for completing then" academic studies at the university.
The study's findings determined no differences among the students' perceptions of those who were enrolled at arts and humanities colleges, and those who were enrolled at scientific colleges. This finding may reflect that the majority of students are satisfied with their academic fields. As a result, they persist with their academic studies and may find few difficulties.
Moreover, the study's findings indicated that most students who believed that the retention factors influenced their persistence in the university were the first-year students. This finding was not surprising because the first-year students are motivated to study and feel happy because they have been admitted to the university. Or it could be an indication that they are highly satisfied with the university services and facilities. This finding does not support the studies of Sanders and Burton (1996), and Wilcox et al. (2005), which reported that the universities they studied faced primarily first-year students' attrition.
Also, the study's findings indicated that the students who had no academic warning, or those who had warnings, had similar perceptions toward retention factors. This finding ensured that the university was highly attractive for the students because they had no other choice for a free university, and attending the university was crucial to get a degree as a way to get a job. Also, the majority of students who participated had no warning; therefore, no differences were found among the student groups. The students of different GPA levels A, B, C, and D want to remain at the university. This finding is not surprising because the students graded C and above were able to graduate and gain the degree, and the students who graded D intensified their efforts to increase their GPA to avoid getting a warning according to the university policy. This finding does not support Sanders and Burton (1996), who stated that noncontinuing students did not persist at DePaul because they had a low GPA.
The citizen students, resident students, and international students have similar perceptions concerning their intention to remain at the university. It would appear to be an indication that the university provides them with an academic and non-academic atmosphere to increase their retention. This finding also ensured that the university treats students equally and just, which enforced their belonging and retention. Also, the international students have free residence halls that provide many services and activities; in addition, they receive monthly financial aid and annual travel tickets to their home country. Therefore, they do not face financial problems. As a result, Kuwait University may be attractive for international students.
Conclusions and Recommendations
This article examined factors that have affected students' retention at Kuwait University. The students presented their agreement on the majority of factors, which reflected that the students were satisfied with the university and intended to obtain their degree. Students' reactions may ensure the effectiveness of the university environment for helping retention. Therefore, the study discussed several recommendations to increase students' retention as follows: provide students with academic tutorials in many academic programs and colleges to strength students' skills and abilities, mentor and provide feedback to guide them in a way that increases their critical thinking, and develop their study skills to achieve academic success and merit in specialization fields.
The study also recommended the importance of the university leadership to encourage students by understanding their needs for different services, and the importance of providing students with effective qualified staff. Since the students are frequently interacting with staff, it is important to develop staff's skills and abilities in dealing with students, academic advising, understanding students' personalities and attitudes, as well as being knowledgeable about student regulations in various arenas.
Several regulations should be submitted to encourage student participation in extracurricular activities, such as providing students with suitable and qualified facilities and locations on campus. Implementing interesting activities, such as community service activities with credit hours, and other services that match their needs and satisfaction by exploring students' perceptions of difficulties they may face either academically or non-academically provide university administrators with a vivid vision of actual student needs. More important, consideration of students' perceptions should be taken into account by resolving their problems and developing their services and activities.
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DR. NABILA ALKANDARI
Copyright Project Innovation, Inc. Jun 2008
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