V, you ask a thoroughly interesting question about retention rates. I’d like to take up your offer to look at why implementation of theory into this is problematic.
Tinto (2007) summarises much of what is known about why students drop out of HE. These, he characterises as student-side actions that explain “why students leave” (p. 6). In opposition to this, he provides three areas of research that aim to investigate university-side actions that show “what institutions can do to help students stay and succeed” (p. 6). Although at first glance, these two sets of actions may appear to be the reverse side of a coin, Tinto demonstrates why “leaving is not the mirror image of staying” (p. 6).
University-side action falls into three areas: the effect of classroom participation on retention rates; its counterpart, faculty development; and the weakness in implementing ideas for retention. More student involvement in classes leads to better academic integration, which in turn leads to higher retention rates. This makes sense when family contexts of lower class students, often first-generation members, may not have inculcated appropriate expectations regarding classroom participation. However, for such participation to occur, classes need to be organised by expert teachers, and the development of such instruction is a faculty development issue. One of Tinto’s major arguments in this paper is the need to springboard off theory onto better methodological practices. Beginning with a “realisation of the gap between research and practice” (p. 4), there is an urgent need “to translate what we know … into forms of action” (p. 5). Yet it is a “regrettable fact” (p. 8) that implementation of workable policies is not often achieved.
I’d like to introduce another aspect not covered by Tinto. Yamada presents the average graduation rates in Japan and the U.S. At 83.15%, Japan is significantly higher than the U.S.’s 46.19% (Yamada, 2014). Why this is so may offer research into retention rates more routes for investigation. My intuition centres around two facets of Japanese HE that may be different from that in the U.S. and other western countries. The first is that entry into prestigious universities in Japan is highly competitive. However, once entered, most students can graduate relatively easily. The demands on students during university are arguably lower than in other countries. (There is research on this, but my references are on another computer.) The second intuition is based on the role of the 3rd and 4th year seminar teacher who is supposed to help students find jobs before graduation. The fourth year of Japanese university is often very light academically, and most effort is expended on job-hunting. Universities advertise their graduates’ employment rates as a marketing device, and pressure is put on seminar teachers to make their students attend as many job fairs as possible. A teacher’s reputation often is based on how successful they are at this task, more than they are at research. Arithmetically, a student only has three years of college in a four-year course, and the main purpose of the fourth year is to find a job. Drop-outs mainly happen during the first two years.
Tinto, V., & Tinto, V. (2007). Research and Practice of Student Retention: What Next? Journal of College Student Retention, 8(1), 1–19. http://doi.org/10.2190/C0C4-EFT9-EG7W-PWP4
Yamada, R. (2014). Measuring quality of undergraduate education in Japan: Comparative perspective in a knowledge based society. (R. Yamada, Ed.). Singapore: Springer.