Date of Award

Fall 2011

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Sally Ward


This study seeks to explain factors that contribute to the retention of black and Hispanic students from their first year through graduation at colleges and universities in the United States. Other studies have investigated the experiences of minority college students (Massey et al. 2006, Steele 1999, and Bowen and Bok 1998) and have focused primarily on student experiences. Using Bourdieu's (1973) conceptualization of capital as the theoretical backdrop, this study is a preliminary investigation of how student experiences and institutional characteristics influence college student graduation.

The study uses data from both the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen and the 2008 Integrated Postsecondary Data Survey to investigate four hypotheses: H1: There is an association between student experiences and degree completion status. H2: The association between student experiences and degree completion status is moderated by race/ethnicity. H3: Institutional characteristics (reflections of students' academic preparation, programs to support students' commitment to educational goals, opportunities for social and academic integration, racial composition of campus, and financial characteristics of the institution) are associated with an institution's graduation rate. H4: The effects of institutional characteristics on college graduation rates are moderated by race/ethnicity.

Analyses of the NLSF data found limited support for Hypothesis 1 but suggest that a student's pre-college experiences have a consistent impact on his or her college graduation status. No support is found for Hypothesis 2. The IPEDS data allows for a preliminary investigation of Hypothesis 3 and Hypothesis 4 and finds some support for both hypotheses. However, some of the institutional characteristics (institutional resources such as Remedial, Distance Learning, or Weekend Classes, or Employment Services) are surprisingly associated with lower graduation rates. When most of these resources are combined with the effect of the percentage of low-income students, the negative effects are reduced somewhat but not eliminated. The analysis for Hypothesis 4 shows that there are many differences in the impact of institutional characteristics on each racial/ethnic group's graduation rate. Although my findings allow the rejection the null hypotheses that there is no relationship between institutional characteristics and graduation rates, it should be noted that the hypotheses cannot be fully tested without more data on student body characteristics. This study suggests that future research on the role of the institution needs to include these student body characteristics.