Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


The Relationship of Sophomore Student Debt on Retention in a Private University

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Paul Johnson (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

William Ingle (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lawrence Lesick (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Richard Anderson (Other)


The purpose of this study is to better understand what impacts a student continuing their degree at a four-year, private university beyond the second year. Furthermore, understanding if certain student characteristics are reliable in predicting which students are more likely to persist beyond the second year of education. For this study there were 878 students from Ohio public schools who as first-time freshmen enrolled at a four-year, private university in Ohio during the 2009-2011 academic years. The data were gathered from Midwest Private University’s (a pseudonym) financial aid and institutional research offices and included 15 variables relating to the demographic, enrollment, and academic characteristics of the included students. Two research questions were utilized in this study. Binomial logistic regression was used to determine if the variables were more likely to predict student persistence. The results indicate that five variables have a positive correlation with those persisting beyond the sophomore year of college: higher high school and college GPA’s, completing more college credits during the first two years of college, being a varsity athlete, and being a university “legacy”. The results also indicated that student loan debt, race, gender, geographic location of the high school, or the high school ranking did not impact the persistence of the student.

Understanding how to better retain students is important for everyone involved in the education process. Helping student’s complete their degrees is an educationally, professionally, and financially imperative topic for University’s, communities, industry, government, and most of all-the student. The results of the study indicate that more research is needed nationally, but also at individual universities to better understand the specific variables that are unique to each institution.