An application of Tinto’s model at a commuter campus

An application of Tinto’s model at a commuter campus

Liu, Elizabeth

Meaningful connections between the disciplines which have been popularized recently, appear in theories of higher education related to student departure. On the one hand, many attempts to explain student departure have relied heavily on psychological models. Models such as those by Rossmann and Kirk (1970), and Waterman and Waterman (1972), emphasize the roles individual personality and disposition play in influencing the student’s willingness and ability to meet the academic and social demands of institutions of higher learning. Thus, in this psychological context, student departure becomes a reflection of individual maladjustment.

However, a myriad of other models combine sociology with higher education, to present institutions of higher learning as mirocosms of society. Sociological theories account for the influence of an environment on individual behavior that psychological theories fail to examine. Sociological explanations for student departure present student departure not just as the individual student’s decision, but as a function of the student body and of the institution of higher learning itself. Thus, student success and failure becomes part of the broader process of social attainment. Pincus (1980) argues that student departure must be understood not as isolated individual events, but as part of the larger process of social stratification, in which race and sex are key players. For theorists, such as Duncan, Featherman (1972), Sewell and Hauser (1975), and Featherman and Hauser (1978), patterns of student departure are further influenced by organizations, such as the institution of higher education, which directly affect the individual student’s ability to compete in the academic marketplace.

Review of Literature

One of the most famous examples of the conflation of sociology and higher education is in Tinto’s model of college student attrition, which derives its strength from Durkheim’s conception of solidarity. In the context of higher education, social solidarity becomes a state of collective social and intellectual integration. Consequently, Durkheim’s conception of anomic suicide is akin to the concept of involuntary student departure. Entrance into institutions of higher education, and therefore entrance into a new society necessitates, to varying degrees, a severance of ties to the individual’s past society. This severance of ties catalyzes the creation of anomie, or a state of confusion and insecurity, which can lead to anomic suicide in the form of student departure.

The contribution of Durkheim’s theories to Tinto’s model of college student attrition is twofold. In accordance with the aforementioned sociological models, Tinto adheres to Durkheim’s philosophy that solidarity is a collective social, and institutional phenomenon, rather than a psychological phenomenon of the students. In addition, Tinto also adopts Durkheim’s conception of solidarity as playing a pivotal role in the academic and social integration that imposes both ideas and values upon individual students. These two aspects of Durkheim’s theories do not necessarily indicate that students themselves possess little agency in decisions of departure; rather, these two aspects assist in the systematic examination of the relationship between student departure and institutional ethos. Moreover, approaching student departure from a sociological standpoint allows for examination of certain trends between student departure and subsets of the population.

In order to understand student departure in a sociological context, it is necessary to view student departure, not as an individual phenomenon, but as related to the individual’s precollege environment, and as the foundation for the individual student’s post-college possibilities and opportunities. For this, we turn to Van Gennep and his discussion of the movement of individuals, specifically in rites of passage. Van Gennep (1960) argued that each stage in rites of passage necessitates a change in the patterns of interaction between the individual (in this case, the individual student) and his/her environment. These changes consist of separation, in which the student is removed from his/her precollege community, transition, in which the individual interacts in new ways with members of the new environment (other students, professors, higher education administration, etc.), and incorporation, which involves becoming a member of this new community by adopting the ideals and behavior of the existing members of this particular society of higher education.

In examining the separation stage of the rites of passage into an environment of higher education, it is essential to recognize the specific influences that may create obstacles to an individual entering college. Socioeconomic factors can include household income level, educational level of the student’s parents, and the parents’ occupation. Simply stated, the lower the income level of the family, the more dependent the student is on federal financial aid. Moreover, the lower the parental income and educational level, the less likely it is that the parents, and therefore their children, will have the access to information about higher education.

In addition to socioeconomic factors, race and sex can also pose an obstacle to entrance into higher education during the pre-separation stage of the higher education rite of passage. Kassie Freeman’s discussion on social and cultural capital (1997) examines such precollege influences on African-American students. As Pascarella and Terenzini (1983) aptly note, the departure of females is, relative to males, more determined by social forces (which may have its roots in the pre-college community of the female students) than academic ones.

The second stage of the rite of passage process, transition, also involves obstacles to success induced by race and gender. The process of transition rests on the individual finding adequate means of communication and connection to the society s/he wants to enter. However, it has been reported that students of color, rather than gaining access to their mainstream college culture find themselves marginalized and alienated, and therefore unable to participate in the intellectual and social solidarity of their college community. Indeed the findings of Loo and Rolison (1986) point to the tendency of AfricanAmerican students to experience isolation and marginality in predominantly white Anglo colleges. Allen’s 1988 study reinforces the idea of marginalization of racial minorities. According to this particular study, 45 percent of black students perceived themselves to be either “very little” or “not at all” part of their university’s general campus life. Social maladjustment, cultural alienation, racial discrimination, and awkward relationships with predominantly Caucasian faculty were among the problems named by the surveyed students.

Asian Americans also faced similar feelings of alienation with regards to mainstream college life. Asian students, when polled by Koyama & Lee (1989), believed that they were stereotyped as a “model minority,” or as “foreigners,” “opportunistic” and “narrowly ambitious,” and therefore incapable of truly engaging in the academic and social solidarity of their campus. According to Kalsner, while the stereotypes of Asian American students may be slightly more positive than the stereotypes imposed upon their African American and Latino-American counterparts, nevertheless “These stereotypes deny their individuality and hide the great diversity within the Asian American population.” Moreover, the image of Asian American students as “high achievers causes many of their needs to go unrecognized.”

The response of many of these alienated minority students was to rely on their own cultural group for support. In addition, Felming (1985) found that African American students attending African American colleges reported higher levels of success and satisfaction with academic life, particularly in terms of relationships with the faculty. Similar sentiments are echoed by female students at all women’s colleges. However, ultimately, the question still remains as to the influence of race and gender on the rate of student departure. It is the question of race and sex that comprises the main subject of this study.


This research study was conducted at a medium-size midwestern commuter campus with a sample of 14,476 students. To ensure diversity, the sample included subjects of various levels of scholastic achievement, different ethnicities, religions, both sexes, and transfer students, as well native freshmen. Data was extracted from a student longitudinal data base. Variables in this study included grade point average, sex, race, native freshmen versus transfer students, age and dropout versus completion status. The probit procedure was used to estimate the effect of each independent variable upon the dropout/retention status. Although Tinto’s model was comprehensives, his model was not transformed into a hypothesis-like postulate. Noe has Tinto’s concepts been operationalized.

Since the dependent variable of this study is dichotomous-stay versus dropout status-any application of ordinary least squares, or any extensions based on ordinary least squares have been noted, one related to the nature of the error terms implicit in each observation and the other related to the functional form of the model. (Hanushek and Jackson, 1977). The probit method calculates maximum likelihood estimates for the parameters of the variables of gender, and race, make the probit analysis an idea statistical method to validate Tinto’s theory.



The findings (b=-.12270) here indicated that there is no significant differentiation between retention rates with respect to sex. Sewell and Shah (1967) produced similar results on this issue of retention rates. As Sewell and Shah determined, graduate rates are identical for male and female students, after five or more years of enrollment. However, despite the aforementioned similarity, this study does not reflect Sewell and Hauser’s (1975) major finding. The finding of their study, that women who do graduate are more likely to complete their studies “on time” than their male counterparts, received no corroborative support in this study. This study indicated that the time required for degree completion is the same for both sexes. Perhaps this disparity can be explained as a result of the rise of equal opportunity in the work force. As role differentiation in occupational structures has become less gender specific, job opportunities requiring degrees have become a necessity for both men and women to sustain a job. The concomitant increase of equal access to higher education may also have contributed greatly to this finding.


The undeniable national effort to provide racial minorities access to institutions of higher learning over the last three decades has greatly improved minority access to higher education at various levels. Most significantly, the gains of Hispanic students have outpaced those of African Americans at certain sections of higher education. However, if the concept of access is extended to encompass the relative proportion of minority students completing undergraduate degrees, the recent trend of progress is less promising. The finding (b=.35369) of this study mirrors the general trend of American higher education in which the variable of race continues to have an impact upon student departure. Sociological literature is replete with evidence that college attendance correlates with income and family educational attainment. As the income gap between Caucasians and minorities increases, the fact that the retention rate of minorities also bags behind their Caucasian counterparts is not surprising. The concept of access is not only applicable to gross enrollment, but should also be extended to college retention.


The findings (b=-.09072) of the study indicate that younger students have a higher graduation rate. In general, the impact of age is less discernible when it interacts with other background variables, such as race and sex. Adult learners tend to be older, have more family responsibilities, and hence have more difficulty achieving emotional attainment.

Native Freshmen versus Transfer Students The findings (b=1.94110) of this study indicate that, in general, transfer students tend to have higher retention rate than native freshmen. Perhaps this disparity can be explained as a result of transfer students having already accrued credit and possessing some college experience.


The primary concept this study points to is integration, both social and academic. When conducting such studies, it is important to recognize the specificities of each individual institution. For example, while this study indicates that transfer students have a higher retention rate than native freshmen, it is possible that on a residential campus, the reverse may be true. However, certain general themes can be ascertained from this study. While race is undeniably a factor in retention rate, it is important to note that race, in and of itself, is not a definitive factor. Rather, race must be examined within the specific context of student-faculty relationships. That race remains a significant aspect of retention rate even in a racially diverse campus indicates that the impact of race must be studied. Throughout the study, it became increasingly apparent that student-faculty relationships were often crucial to student retention. Student-faculty relationship consists not just of formal interaction in the classroom, but also informal contact, such as discussions during office hours. Thus, student retention requires a faculty to which the student body can relate. Consequently, high student retention requires more racial diversity among the faculty. Moreover, further studies must be completed to determine whether the effect of race on retention rate is an isolated incident or part of a larger phenomenon.


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Department of English Language and Literature

University of Chicago


Institutional Studies and Planning

Northeastern Illinois University

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