Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership


Retention of students is a critical area of much needed attention on nearly every college campus. It is important to students who want to succeed in college and beyond, to institutions that desire high efficiency and prestige, and increasingly to state and federal leaders. Retention of students in college affects a broad range of stakeholders, from the self-esteem and financial stability of students to the fiscal health, well-being and leadership of our country.

Using Astin's model of inputs-environment-outputs (1993) as a guide, this study seeks to understand institutional environmental factors that may impact the retention of students from their first-to-second year. Specifically, this study explores environmental factors present on three Evangelical Lutheran Colleges of America (ELCA) institutions with stronger than predicted first-to-second year retention rates. In a case study design, data were collected on three ELCA college campuses through interviews with faculty and administrators and focus groups with students. Analysis of website and recruitment materials and researcher observations also provide descriptions of the campus environment.

Key findings include the importance of student-institution fit and the presence of a clear sense of community in which students are strongly engaged and connected in and out of the classroom. This study also confirms the complexity of student retention and the need for strong institutional focus on student success. Additionally, clear and on-going support from institutional leaders is important. Finally, continuous improvement and assessment of institutional initiatives aimed at student success are meaningful to achieving stronger than predicted retention rates.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.