Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Vicki Underwood


A private, not-for-profit, 4-year urban university had been struggling to improve its 1st-year retention rate despite conducting previous studies and implementing various initiatives. This study explored the influence that students' personal connections to the study site had on their experience in their 1st year in college. Tinto's student integration models of attrition, Astin's theory on student involvement, and Berger and Milem's model of persistence served as the conceptual framework. A case study design was employed to examine faculty and staff members' beliefs on how the university established and maintained connections with its students and how faculty, staff, and students viewed 1st-year initiatives and retention in relation to personal connection. Individual interviews were conducted with 3 faculty members, 3 staff members, and 15 2nd-year students. The resulting data were coded both manually and using Microsoft OneNote and were analyzed for emerging themes. Some of the results that emerged from the study included that the study site had a difficult time establishing a connection with its students, 1st-year initiatives had mixed results, students stayed at the study site because of a personal connection, and urban institutions have a difficult time establishing a connection with students. These results shed light on a new area on which the university can focus its retention and 1st-year experience efforts. A white paper was written to offer possible solutions to administrators, including changes to the dormitories and a redesign of the 1st-year seminar course. Improvements to 1st-year retention will help promote positive social change by enabling more students to stay in college and graduate on time, which in turn enhances job opportunities and the potential for higher wages.