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non-returning students, former students, dropped out, stopped out, enrolled and did not return


The 2013 Non-Returning Student Survey (NRS) is Western’s first large-scale survey of students who dropped or stopped out since OIART conducted a Survey of Non-Returning Students in June, 2001. The goal of the NRS was to identify reasons for students’ failure to continuously enroll, and to identify improvements Western could implement to aid at-risk students. The NRS was designed in conjunction with Western’s Office of Institutional Research and Division of Enrollment and Student Services. The sample for the NRS covers all undergraduate, degree-seeking students who were enrolled during fall, winter, or spring quarter between fall, 2011 and spring, 2013. From these, OSR removed all students who graduated, all post-baccalaureate students, and any student who was dropped from the university due to poor academic performance. From the remainder, OSR identified 2,333 students who failed enroll at Western during fall quarter, 2013. These 2,333 students are OSR’s survey sample. A unique feature of the NRS is that all students, not just those who complete OSR’s surveys, can be tracked after leaving Western through the National Student Clearinghouse (Clearinghouse), a service that follows individual students as they enroll in nearly any U.S. 2- or 4-year institution of higher education. Section A.1 of this report provides information on Western’s non-returning students gleaned from the Clearinghouse. Of the 2,333 students failing to return to Western, 1,329 (57%) were recorded by the Clearinghouse as attending at least one institution after leaving Western. Of these, just over one-half (52%, 690 students) attended a public, two-year university while 42% (561 students) attended a public, four-year university. All but one of the remainder (6%) attended a private, four-year school. The most common 2-year schools were Whatcom Community College (193 students), Bellevue (85), Everett (54), Skagit (40), Bellingham Tech (34) and Olympic College (34). The most common 4-year schools attended by former Western students were the University of Washington (86), Washington State University (64), Eastern Washington University (34), and Central Washington University (26). Western has admission index measures for 1,729 of the 2,333 non-returning students in the sample. Thirty-five percent had an AI greater than 60 and nearly another 25% had AIs between 50 and 60. By the time of their withdrawal, nearly one-third of non-returning students earned cumulative WWU GPAs greater than 3.0. On the other hand, 19% of non-returning students earned cumulative WWU GPAs less than 2.0. Interestingly, 219 students left Western having already accumulated more than 180 credits, a group that perhaps, with a little effort, could be convinced to return to earn their degrees. Using the Clearinghouse data, OSR can also identify the types of students that attend other institutions after leaving Western. Of the 2,333 non-returning students, 214 had either declared a major, pre-major, or had expressed interest in Physical Education, Health & Recreation, 172 in Psychology, 133 in Biology, 124 in Engineering Technology, and 106 in Elementary Education. It is important to note that many of these students may have simply expressed an interest in these subjects and had yet to declare a major in them. Among those who had actually declared a major, 81 students who failed to return to Western were in PEHR, 43 in English, 37 from Fairhaven, and 33 from Art. Beginning on October 8, 2013 OSR sent e-mail invitations to the sample using the last known external e-mail address of these students. OSR also attempted to use internal e-mail addresses of students on the off chance that some students continued to use their Western accounts. Students failing to respond to e-mail solicitations were then called at their last known cell phone or permanent phone number. The survey concluded on November 22, 2013. OSR received survey responses from 946 students, a response rate of 40.5%. Of these 946, 212 responded to the survey over the telephone. As with any survey, readers should be concerned with sample selection bias; that is bias that arises because respondents are often a non-random selection of the population of potential respondents. While sample selection bias is mitigated by proper survey techniques and a relatively high survey response rate, this is of special concern in a survey of individuals who have left Western because many have varying degrees of commitment to the university. For instance, 24% of respondents claim to be “Very likely” to return to Western to continue their education. Of course, it is exactly these type of students one would expect to respond to a survey e-mail or phone call. To explore sample selection bias, section A.2 of this report lists a number of observable characteristics between respondents, non-respondents, and students who remained at Western. As usual in surveys, respondents were much more likely to be female (52.4% of respondents were female whereas 54.8% of all non-returning students were female). As mentioned in the introduction, this survey spanned two academic years (2011- 2012 and 2012-2013). Students having attended in the most recent academic year were more likely to respond to the survey than those in the prior year. Fully 63% of the responses come from the most recent attendees whereas they make up 57% of the population. Respondents also tended to be slightly stronger academically with average AIs of 54.3 and average Western GPAs of 2.65 relative to the entire population which averaged AIs of 53.3 and Western GPAs of 2.53. At the same time, respondents and non-respondents had similar measures of accumulated credits, Running Start and transfer student status, racial profiles, and Washington State residency status. Turning to the survey results, 91% of respondents originally enrolled at Western in hopes of earning a degree from Western. Nearly all of the remainder enrolled in hopes of transferring to another institution. Of those originally wishing to transfer, almost three-fourths had enrolled in their preferred institution. When asked about their current activity, nearly one-half of non-returning students had enrolled at another institution while 40% were working for pay. As noted above, 24% of survey respondents indicated they were “very likely” to return to Western. As of the beginning of Winter quarter (2014), 142 respondents, or 6% of the non-returning students, had re-enrolled at Western. Respondents were allowed to choose as many reasons as they liked to describe why they left Western. The three most common “broad” reasons given were finances, academics, and family/personal reasons. When asked to be more specific about financial reasons, nearly one-in-five students claimed their student loans were too large and about a similar amount stated that their or their family’s financial situation changed. About one-in-eight claimed not receiving financial aid contributed to their reason for leaving Western. Forty percent of respondents cited academic reasons for leaving Western. Of those, nearly one-third claimed to have academic problems at Western, about one-third believed another school has a better program in their field, and a similar number remained unsure about what they wanted to study. A smaller fraction of students left because Western did not offer an academic program of interest. The most common program mentioned, by 17 students, was nursing and 23 students have since enrolled in a nursing program. The NRS concludes with two open ended questions asking students if there was “anything that could have been done to make your experience at Western more successful?” and “Is there anything else you would like us to know about your experiences at Western?” Of the 623 individuals who responded to the first of these questions, nearly one-half of them indicated that there was nothing Western could have done to make them more successful. Of the remainder, the most frequent (45) response was to provide better advising or access to advising, greater access to financial aid (39) and lower tuition (39). The NRS data is linkable to other Western data sources by unique student identifier. OSR welcomes and encourages campus researchers to utilize this data in their further investigation of issues impacting student success.




Digital object produced by Office of Survey Research, Western Washington University, and made available by University Archives, Heritage Resources, Western Libraries, Western Washington University.

Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

College dropouts--Washington (State)--Statistics; College students--Washington (State)--Attitudes--Statistics

Title of Series

Technical and research reports (Western Washington University. Office of Survey Research) ; 2014-01






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