The hunt for why they leave : a qualitative multiple-case study to investigate how data inform decisions to address student persistence at a public midsize college in Texas.


According to the United States Department of Education (2012, 2016), degree completions are a vital measure of overall institution success. Significantly, declining student persistence rates and low degree completions are consistent problems in public colleges throughout the United States. Not only are diminishing retention and incomplete degrees common to colleges nationwide, but cultural shifts, changing student demographics, lack of state funding, and ineffective decision-making strategies are risk factors which contribute to detrimental student success rates. To combat waning retention, institutional leaders have begun employing innovative strategies such as a greater reliance on data-based decisions to improve student persistence and degree completion to better understand and predict student behavior (Selingo, 2013; Tinto, 2017; Wade, 2019). This multiple-case study focused on investigating how leaders at a midsize public college in Texas use data as intel to guide their persistence and degree completion decisions. The study used the Data Analytics Model by Agasisti and Bowers (2017) as a theoretical framework to understand how the institution’s data collection and analysis process functions to guide institutional success. The research in this study draws from the diverse voices typically present on a public campus. Senior administrators, mid-level administrators, and college personnel voiced how they implement data-based decision-making strategies on their campus. The findings in this study illustrate a disconnect between perceptions and realities regarding data usage and accessibility at a public college. Notable issues that emerged concerned gaps between knowledge and usage, as well as personnel being unaware of how to effectively use data to meet institutional goals. The present study concludes that practitioners and college personnel should democratize data through increasing communication channels to implement college-wide program and curriculum initiatives more effectively (Horst, 2020; Sacks, 2017; Walton, 2005). Moreover, the results of this study provide a foundation for institutional leaders to understand how the proper dissemination of data can empower leaders and personnel to make more well-informed decisions on their campuses.



Higher education. Data-driven decisions. College personnel. Senior administration. Institutions. Colleges. Multiple-case study. Retention. Persistence. Graduation. Degree completion. Big data. Decision-making. Data analytics.