Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer

Second Advisor

Dr. Andrea Beach

Third Advisor

Dr. Kristen Salomonson


Graduation, demographics, personal attributes, retention, academic preparation, standardized tests


Despite retention being a significant focus of higher education research, graduation rates remain of concern. Increased numbers of students are advancing to college bringing with them a wider range of abilities, attributes, and characteristics. There is much we know about what predicts success for these students but our knowledge is far from complete. My study therefore explores to what extent pre-admission variables of academic preparation, personal attributes, and demographic characteristics are predictive of graduation with the goal of identifying students who are more or less likely to do well than their high school academic preparation would suggest.

The study examines the records of 6,400 first-time-in-any-college freshmen (FTIACs) at one mid-sized university as it transitioned from an open admission policy to higher admission standards over a seven-year period. Twenty-two independent variables drawn from the student record system and ACT Interest Inventory were examined, as broken down by each admission standard cohort, data set, and field of study. Logistic regression analysis was used to find variables predictive of first- and second-year retention as well as graduation.

Results revealed that for all groups, high school grade point average (HSGPA) was significant in predicting both retention and graduation. Standardized test scores such as the ACT were not significant. Other factors with a positive influence on retention and graduation among the groups included: living in a residence hall, extracurricular activities, AP credits, CLEP credits, and being female. Variables with a negative influence were being Pell eligible, higher educational aspirations, higher estimated first year GPA, distance from campus, and being a minority. Pell eligibility was significant for almost every group tested. For the weakest students the only variable which predicted retention or graduation was HSGPA.

Findings indicated the two most important variables in predicting graduation were HSGPA and Pell eligibility. Focusing admission standards and retention programs on these two factors would have the greatest impact on graduation rates, as well as setting realistic shorter-term educational aspirations and estimated GPA goals. This research strongly suggests setting minimum admission standards based on HSGPA alone could be an appropriate option for higher education leaders.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access