Institutions nationwide are up against a persistent retention rate where there hasn’t been a marked change in the percentage of students who have persisted to graduation (Seidman, 2004, p. 133). As noted in the Chronicle of Higher Education Research Services Report, The College of 2020: Students (2009), the outlook of students eligible to attend college in the next decade is shifting, and potentially decreasing as well. Students that are of White/Non-Hispanic descent will decrease to almost 50% of eligible students by 2021-22 (Figure 1), and the minority populations that will possibly fill the gap are less likely to complete their degree (p. 13-14). “Once students get to college, there are similarly yawning gaps among the rates of completion for most minority students. Overall, 59 percent of white students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrolling, but only 47 percent of Hispanics, 41 percent of African-Americans, and 39 percent of American Indian students accomplish the same thing, according to the “Measuring Up 2008” report” (Sabatier & Van Der Werf, 2009, p. 14).
In order for institutions to stay competitive they will need to find ways to attract and support the new populations that will come to their schools. With no real change in retaining students since 1995, there has been a surge in spending on college and university campuses that has spawned many new and renovated facilities (Abramson, 2010, p. 2). The hope is that the increased spending in physical spaces will result in an increase in recruitment and retention goals of the institution.
“Research on student retention is voluminous. It is easily one of the most widely studied topics in higher education over the past thirty years. Over that time considerable attention has been paid to developing and testing theories of student retention that seek to explain why some students leave and others persist. Although there is still some disagreement over the details of differing theories, the broad dimensions of a theory of student retention are starting to emerge. Among other things, we can say with a good deal of confidence that academic preparation, commitments, and involvement matter” (Seidman, 2005, Forward).
There are a number of research projects that address the importance of the campus environment and student’s decision to attend an institution and persist. There are two studies that speak to the idea that the campus facilities and environment influence college choice. The first study conducted by the Carnegie Foundation occurred between 1984 and 1985. Ernest Boyer (1986) published the study’s findings from the Survey of the Transition from High School to College, which surveyed 1,000 high school seniors; in the journal article Smoothing the Transition from School to College. The results of the survey were that a majority of the students valued the campus visit, specifically the facilities like the Athletic Complex and Student Union, and used this knowledge in making their final decision.
In 2006 a follow-up study was conducted to focus on all campus facilities and their impact on recruitment and retention efforts. The study titled The Impact of Facilities on the Recruitment and Retention of Students (Reynolds & Cain, 2006), found that there is a significant correlation between the campus environment and successfully recruiting and retaining students on campuses. In this study the College Union was ranked ninth in importance (Figure 2), impacting a students decision to attend an institution.
Studies that support retention can be placed into two categories, the environmental factors and student social and psychological experiences. “At the environmental level, studies (e.g., Berger, 2000; Berger & Braxton, 1998; Gansemer-Topf & Schuh, 2006; Kalsbeek, 1987; Nora, 2001; Tinto, 2006b; Upcraft, Gardner, & Barefoot, 2005) suggest that organizational behaviors, including expenditures for instruction, academic support, student services, facilities, institutional support, and institutional grants (i.e., student financial aid), significantly contributed to student retention rates.
Not only is it important that the current climate at the institution contributes to the decision to build a facility, but it is just as important to recognize the alumni of the institution in having an impact on the retention of students.. In addition to the influence of the current organizational environment, the support from members of past student communities, rejection of norms of past communities, and values from previous peers were also found to significantly impact student retention (Elkins, Braxton, & James, 2000)” (Bai and Pan, 2009, p. 289). This is evident in the influence alumni have on fundraising at institutions, as well as helping institutions remember where they came from, which helps build affinity between the current and past communities. This results in students having pride in the history of the campus, building pride in the school and the want to continue this feeling as they carry the flame for the next generation.
College Unions And Retention (ACUI, May 2015)