Publication Date

Spring 2016

Document Type

Project Summary

Degree Name

Doctor of Education



First Advisor

Jane Hudak, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Lynette Danley, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Aurélio Manuel Valente, Ed.D


Student retention is an intricate and multi-layered issue facing postsecondary institutions across the United States. Although a complex issue, one trend is clear, research on student persistence reveals that more students withdraw from their institution within the first year of college. An additional and continuing dilemma is the disproportional attrition of first-generation college students, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds. The purpose of this case study is to examine the transition of Governors State University (GSU) from an upper-division graduate university to a four-year traditional institution and its impact (in terms of curricular and co-curricular programs and services) on the retention and persistence of first-year, first-generation college students. This study employed a mixed-method sequential explanatory research design in which quantitative data was collected first followed by two qualitative methods. Statistical institutional data on GSU’s enrollment, persistence, and retention was analyzed for trends. An online qualitative survey was sent to nineteen administrators of curricular and co-curricular programs and/or services. Additionally four one-on-one interviews were conducted with senior executive administrators in Academic and Student Affairs units. The quantitative results reveal declining enrollment and persistence rates of the institution’s first-year and second-year students-suggesting the institution’s ineffectiveness in retaining first-year students. However, qualitative results reveal that administrators have positive perceptions about the institution’s effectiveness in retaining first-year and first-generation college students. These findings show a clear disconnection between quantitative and qualitative data. Despite GSU’s low retention rate of its first-year students, with its internal efforts, the institution shows promise to stand alongside its higher ranking national peers.