Perceived Supports for Successful Program Completion at a Postsecondary Technical College

Mary Polter Polter, Walden University


Low college completion rates have far reaching effects for students, colleges, and the communities that rely on skilled graduates. Program completion at a Midwestern postsecondary technical college has been affected by several factors including program length, with lower completion rates for the longer programs. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore perceptions of students, faculty, and administrators about factors contributing to successful program completion. Guided by Tinto's theory of student departure, semistructured interviews were conducted with 6 successful students who made consistent progress in completing their programs, 3 faculty members teaching in those programs, and 5 administrators who had face-to-face contact with students at the study site. An inductive, constant comparative data analysis approach was used as the interviews were transcribed and manually coded; the codes were then consolidated to identify themes. Six themes emerged, with 2 themes corresponding to each of Tinto's principles of institutional commitment to students, educational commitment, and social and intellectual community. The results indicated that institutional support, student commitment, and sense of belonging contributed to program completion for successful students. A specific topic perceived as important to students, faculty, and staff was institutional support for students' commitment, which might be enhanced by teaching foundational self-regulation skills. These findings led to creation of a faculty development project on teaching self-regulated learning strategies with the intent of initiating changes to improve students' retention and completion rates. Positive social change may be promoted locally by increasing program completion and resulting in higher levels of employment to meet the economic demand in the community.