Exploring student integration into academic and social systems using Tinto’s theory of student departure : a qualitative case study of student connectedness at a metropolitan university in the midwest.


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Declining retention is one of the greatest challenges higher education battles today. Large universities with broad admissions standards and high commuter populations face challenges to retaining students. Historical and systemic issues impact first-generation, low-income, and non-White students. Access institutions attract students considered most likely to drop-out. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated ongoing problems while also creating new challenges relating to virtual learning and student mental health in these institutions. Academic advisors work with students every day with the goal to retain them. However, many advisors face high caseloads causing time constraints and limited ability to foster relationships with students. Tinto’s Theory of student departure was the guide to this qualitative, case study. I reviewed an intake questionnaire from five students then proceeded to interview the students to understand their experiences with an advising office. Further, I analyzed documents relating to advising to provide triangulation in the study. The university I selected had low retention rates, yet the students’ program had extremely high retention rates. The study focused on advising students at access institutions who were more likely to face higher chances of dropping out. The purpose of this case study was to understand the impact of an academic advising office on student persistence by analyzing formal and informal social and academic connections fostered by academic advisors. With proper time and ability, I found that advising can fulfill formal and informal social and academic influences. Administrators must advocate for realistic caseloads for academic advisors. Advisors must foster intentional and relational communication and advising practices outside of course selection. Students, specifically those more likely to drop-out, need to utilize advising regularly. Further researchers must continue to study advising caseloads at access institutions. The study showed the need for investment into advising that can include both social and academic influences for students at access institutions.