Tinto’s Five Success Factors for Student Retention

Vincent Tinto articulated a number of success factors (originally 5 and then 6) for student persistence.  The six are listed below with a quote from him about each one of them.


First and perhaps most clearly, institutional commitment is a condition for student success. Simply put, institutions that are committed to the goal of increasing student success, especially among low-income and under-represented students, seem to find a way to achieve that end. But institutional commitment is more than just words, more than just mission statements issued in elaborate brochures; it is the willingness to invest the resources and provide the incentives and rewards needed to enhance student success. Without such commitment, programs for student success may begin, but rarely prosper over the long-term.


Second, expectations, specifically high expectations, are a condition for student success. Quite simply, no student rises to low expectations. Regrettably, it is too often the case that universities expect too little of students, especially during the critical first year of college. Indeed a recent national study by Kuh (2003) indicates that first year students spend less time on their studies out of class than what we deem necessary for successful learning. They simply do not study enough. It is my view that this is the case in part because we do not expect enough of them nor construct educational settings that require them to study enough.


Third, support is a condition that promotes student success. Research points to three types of support that promote success; namely academic, social, and financial. As regards academic support, it is unfortunately the case that more than a few students enter the university insufficiently prepared for the rigors of university study. For them, as well as for others, the availability of academic support for instance in the form of developmental education courses, tutoring, study groups, and academic support programs such as supplemental instruction is an important condition for their continuation in the university. So also is the availability of social support in the form of counseling, mentoring, and ethnic student centers. Such centers provide much needed support for individual students and a safe haven for groups of students who might otherwise find themselves out of place in a setting where they are a distinct minority. For new students, these centers can serve as secure, knowable ports of entry that enable students to safely navigate the unfamiliar terrain of the university.


Fourth, monitoring and feedback is a condition for student success. Students are more likely to succeed in settings that provide faculty, staff, and students frequent feedback about their performance. Here I refer not only to entry assessment of learning skills and early warning systems that alert institutions to students who need assistance, but also to classroom assessment techniques such as those described by Angelo and Cross (1993) and those that involve the use of learning portfolios. These techniques are not to be confused with testing but with forms of assessment, such as the well-known “one-minute” paper, that provide students and faculty alike information on what is or is not being learned in the classroom. When used frequently, such techniques enable students and faculty alike to adjust their learning and teaching in ways that promote learning. When implemented in portfolio form that requires continuous reflection, assessment can also deeply enrich learning.


Fifth, involvement, or what has been frequently been described as academic and social integration, is a condition for student success (e.g. Astin, 1993; Tinto, 1993). Quite simply, the more students are academically and socially involved, the more likely are they to persist and graduate. This is especially true during the first year of university study when student membership is so tenuous yet so critical to subsequent learning and persistence. Involvement during that year serves as the foundation upon which subsequent affiliations and engagements are built.


Six, and most importantly, students are more likely to persist and graduate in settings that foster learning. Learning has always been the key to student persistence. Students who learn are students who stay. Institutions that are successful in building settings that educate all their students, all not just some, are successful in graduating their students. Again, involvement seems to be the key. Students who are actively involved in learning, that is who spend more time on task, especially with others, are more likely to learn and, in turn, more likely to stay and graduate.


To sum up, students are more likely to succeed when they find themselves in settings that are committed to their success, hold high expectations for their success, provide needed academic, social, and financial support, frequent feedback, and actively involve them, especially with other students and faculty in learning. The key concept is that of learning and educational community and the capacity of institutions to establish educational communities that actively involve all students in learning. And at no time is the need for educational community more pressing than in the critical first-year of college.

The full document these quotes are taken from is available on the Purdue website here.


Rick W. Burkett runs the John A. Logan College Teaching and Learning Center, teaches history, and heads an educational nonprofit. He publishes blogs on a wide variety of topics, including history, teaching and learning, student success, and teaching online.

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