Book By: John M. Braxton, Amy S. Hirschy, Shederick A. McClendon
Review By: Dawn Downs Arnold
Undergraduate Advising Resource Center
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh


As financial support increasingly becomes tied to student retention and graduation rates, institutions clamor for help in understanding why students leave in the first place. In an interesting revision of Tinto’s theory, Braxton, Hirschy and McClendon offer a framework for the rationale of student departure that enables institutions to look at programming changes that may help retain students through graduation.

The authors present support for a compartmentalization of Tinto’s original theory (1975, p. 104-107),  and cite robust support for four of the thirteen propositions they found in Tinto: students’ level of commitment to the institution, the initial level’s affect on students’ subsequent commitment to the institution, social integration affecting subsequent commitment, and the effect of commitment on student persistence (p. 13-14).  Additionally, authors offer six factors that influence social integration (p. 22): commitment to the institution to student welfare, institutional integrity, communal potential, proactive social adjustment, psychological engagement, and ability to pay. Providing the underlying suppositions that support those six factors, authors posit that the combination of these factors offers a more concise picture of student departure across institutional types. 

The authors’ hypothesis seems strongest in its illustration that the burden of responsibility for retention is shared between student and institution -- an integral portion of Tinto’s theory (self-efficacy). One example that stands out is the discussion of the campus environment. Here authors state that while an institution should exhibit integrity and commitment to student welfare, it is incumbent upon the student to understand the type of institution he or she will attend and to understand whether that institution best fits his or her needs. So, if a student needs structure, a commuter campus will be a poorer fit than a residential campus; if a student needs autonomy, then a residential campus will offer less autonomy (p. 46). 

Highlights of this study include the selection of “best practice” programs within each institutional type included in the study. Selection criteria were “meeting at least two of Tinto’s three principles for effective retention: commitment to the student and his or her welfare; commitment by the institution to the education of all students; commitment of the institution to the development of social and academic communities to assist students in their integration (Braxton et al., p. 55). Nine programs are included to show the structures that best illustrate Tinto’s theory. In all cases, the programs were comprehensive in nature and developmental in implementation.

Studies conducted by both ACT (2004) and Iowa State University (2005) support of many of the model institutions noted in this research and emphasize the need for systemic changes to achieve student satisfaction and retention.  Academic, environmental, social, or diversity-related changes only are marginally effective in increasing retention. Programs, whether academic or social must be campus wide or, where tailored to a specific population, programs must be thoroughly comprehensive to affect retention.

While not overly helpful as a primary resource for academic advisors, the study is an excellent resource for those involved in curriculum design and administration of student service. The outline of various but quite different programs offers readily accessible models for all institution types. The authors offer an extensive list of suggestions for further research into student departure.  Although burdened by jargon, the authors of this text offer an interesting sequel to an already useful theory.


Works cited:

American College Testing (2004).  Retaining students in college: an ACT policy alert. Retrieved January 6, 2005, from webmail.uwosh.edu


Braxton, J.M., Hirschy, A.S., McClendon, S.A. (2003).  Understanding and reducing college student departure.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Iowa State University. (2005). Are college students satisfied: a national analysis of changing expectations.  Retrieved January 6, 2005, from the Iowa State University Strategic Planning 2005-2010 Web site: http://www.iastate.edu/~newplan/docs/satisfied.html

Tinto, V. (1975).  Dropout from higher education: a theoretical synthesis of recent research.  Review of Educational Research, 45, 89-125.

Understanding and Reducing College Student Departure. (2003). Book by Braxton, John M., Amy S. Hirschy, Shederick A. McClendon. Review by Dawn Downs Arnold. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 108 pp. Price $24. ISBN # 0-7879-7282-7.

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