Schools and universities in the United States have always struggled with low retention rates. Such retention rates show that successful transition into college programs is difficult due to poor preparations or financial reasons. Retention rates indicate the number of students that return to college after a year of studying. Furthermore, the attrition rates of departments vary depending on various factors (Knekta & McCartney, 2021). Research on the retention rates of different departments is valuable; therefore, it is critical to review existing articles to understand how to improve students’ retention in schools.
Summary: Study’s Purpose
The type of study is qualitative, and it is a form of action research. In addition, it explores the problem of low attrition rates in college programs in a single biology department. A sense of belonging and involvement can improve retention in school departments. Therefore, the study explores the sense of involvement and belonging for students majoring in biology and partaking in a program known as Quantifying Biology in the Classroom (QBIC) (Knekta & McCartney, 2021). The program utilizes various strategies to create a feeling of involvement and belonging among students.
The participants were invited to partake in interviews regarding their experiences and interactions in the Florida International University (FIU) biology department. The invitations were sent to three classes of eighty-four students during 2017’s fall. The total number of students who participated in the study was ten, including five males and five females. All of them were biology and had a common goal of enrolling in a medical school. Seven undergraduates and three students were freshmen and sophomores, respectively. Eight students were Hispanic, one identified themselves as Asian, and the remaining one chose not to reveal their ethnicity (Knekta & McCartney, 2021). All the study partakers were given an Amazon gift card worth $25.
The study design is based on a case study that utilized an institutional action model as the theoretical framework to understand different departmental elements that can enhance students’ attrition rates. Case studies provide in-depth examinations of institutions, programs, or people. Case studies help researchers to comprehend complex issues through extensive contextual analysis. In addition, case studies give researchers the freedom to apply various methodologies to investigate research problems (Baron & McNeal, 2019). The QIBIC program guides the case study, and it aims to develop a community of students and provide them with scientific skills in biology.
Data Collection Method
The study uses semi-structured interviews to collect data in FIU, a large research university in the United States. The interviews were done within early October and late September 2017 and organized and recorded by the first author. They lasted between thirty-seven and sixty minutes. Furthermore, the students were asked cognitive interview and interaction questions (Knekta & McCartney, 2021). In addition, several probes were utilized to entice students to give detailed elaborations on the questions.
Thematic analysis and the Nvivo software were used to analyze the study’s data. Every interview was transcribed using an online service. The first author accounted for any errors that may have occurred. Attributional coding was used to reveal the students’ demographic information. Furthermore, inductive coding was utilized to search for various themes in the study’s data. The inductive coding is not affected by theoretical frameworks but is entirely influenced by students’ responses. Coding was focused on the data’s explicit meanings, done by the second and first authors (Knekta & McCartney, 2021). The themes were compared until the researchers reached an agreement on thematization.
The data analysis from inductive coding led to the emergence of several themes. They include the biology department conceptualization, the QBIC program’s structural properties, students’ competency, and interest, and social environment. The students had different conceptualizations of the department. The learners described the stable social environment as a factor that increases department or program retention because they feel respected, valued, and accepted. The QBIC program’s structure created an atmosphere of a learning community. The QBIC program was deemed successful in fostering an excellent sense of community (Knekta & McCartney, 2021). Furthermore, encouraging more interactions and involvement through research seminars and volunteer opportunities.
Further Research and Validity
Future research could use more participants and compare programs of different biology departments in more than two similar schools. In addition, future research could include a study that compares students in the QBIC program and those who are not. The study’s validity is questionable because it cannot be generalized to other schools or biology majors (Knekta & McCartney, 2021). Every QBIC student has their perception of how to increase their retention rates in the departments.
Original Insight/Criticism and Implications
There are original insights that the study could have taken to improve its credibility. For instance, instead of focusing on a single school’s biology department, the study could have included at least five different school departments. Such an action would provide reliable results that could be applied in many school departments. The current study will improve the understanding of new students’ strategies that increase their attrition rates in different college courses (Knekta & McCartney, 2021). Furthermore, the research can help instructors to increase their encouragement efforts towards alternate biology careers.
Low retention rates represent a problem for different schools; therefore, it is crucial to review current research articles to know evidence-based strategies to solve the problem. Low retention rates in biology departments are evident through the number of returning students each year. Strategies for reducing low attrition rates include a conducive social environment and the degree of involvement among students. The research is helpful to different school departments that want to improve student retention.
Baron, A., & McNeal, K. (Eds.). (2019). Case study methodology in higher education. IGI Global.
Knekta, E., & McCartney, M. (2021). What can departments do to increase students’ retention? A case study of students’ sense of belonging and involvement in a biology department. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 22(4), 721-742.