Date of Award

1-1-2013

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Educational Leadership and Policies

Sub-Department

Educational Administration

First Advisor

Christian K Anderson

Abstract

This study examined student persistence to attainment at for-profit institutions of higher education using the financial choice-persistence nexus theoretical framework (St. John, Paulsen, & Starkey, 1996). Nexus theory predicts that when students' experiences are not consistent with expectations, students perceive that their implicit contract with the institution has been violated and may choose to leave. This phenomenon has not previously been studied in the for-profit sector. This study examined how students' expectations of college, related to their choice of institution, subsequently impact their persistence decisions at for-profit schools, and how students' expectations affect the way that financial influences such as cost and aid impact student persistence.

These relationships were examined using data from the Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) longitudinal study for 2004-2009. By adding interaction terms to logistic regression models based on prior nexus research, the study examined both the main effect of the financial impact on college choice (FICC) as it related to persistence, and the moderating effects that FICC has on the relationship between financial variables and persistence. Regression models were applied to samples of students attending for-profit schools at the less-than-two-year level, as well as for-profit and non-profit schools at both the two-year and four-year levels. Where results from these initial analyses revealed similar significant interactions in both for-profit and non-profit samples at the same level, further analysis was conducted using combined-sector samples with three-way interaction terms to examine potential moderating effects of institutional control (e.g. for-profit/non-profit) on these relationships.

Results showed no direct significant effect of FICC on persistence at for-profit schools but found that FICC moderated relationships between finances and persistence at less-than-two-year institutions (loans), two-year institutions (tuition, loans, and grants), and four-year institutions (tuition). Analyses of combined-sector samples indicate institutional control and FICC both moderate the relationships between finances and persistence for grants at two-year institutions and tuition at four-year institutions. Despite the presence of significant interactions and improved model fit using interaction terms, evidence of counterintuitive price-response behaviors and contradictory nexus relationships in different sectors suggest that the financial nexus theory does not sufficiently explain student persistence at for-profit institutions. Further examination of the nexus theory using academic and social nexus measures in addition to financial ones may benefit future research on student persistence.

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