Open Access
Hwang, Jihee
Graduate Program:
Higher Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 22, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Leticia Oseguera, Dissertation Advisor
  • Leticia Oseguera, Committee Chair
  • John Jesse Cheslock, Committee Member
  • Roger Lewis Geiger, Committee Member
  • Hoi Kin Suen, Committee Member
  • for-profit college and university
  • certificate/degree completion
  • nontraditional student success model
While for-profit colleges and universities (FPCUs) are touted for their ability to broaden college education opportunities for low-income and underrepresented students who would not otherwise be served in traditional, not-for-profit higher education institutions, their potential success with students is poorly understood. Further, there has been limited discussion or evidence on what contributes to FPCU college students’ success. This study was developed to fill the gap by identifying and describing multiple ways to consider credential completion at the FPCU level as an indicator of student success. It also explored credential completion conditional on type of credential sought and program/field of study enrollment. Higher education theories are rarely applied to FPCU students—thus, this study also proposed a conceptual model of credential completion for for-profit college students that built upon Tinto’s model of institutional departure (1993), Pascarella’s general model for assessing changes (1985), and Bean and Metzner’s nontraditional college student attrition model (1985). The framework was used to examine the factors associated with credential completion and how the same conceptual model and same measures resulted in different findings across the for-profit, community college, and broad access four-year not-for-profit college sectors. The following research questions guided this work. 1) How does using alternative measures to define credential completion in FPCUs influence who is counted as a completer? a. Measure 1: Who completes when credential completion is defined as whether one attained any type of credential at the institution of initial entry? b. Measure 2: Who completes when credential completion is defined as whether one attained a credential that matched their initial credential goal at the institution of initial entry? c. Measure 3: Who completes when credential completion is defined as whether one attained a credential after leaving the FPCU of initial entry? 2) Using the conceptual framework as a guide, how are institutional structures, student services, student background characteristics, and student experiences associated with completion of any credential type by FPCU students? a. How do the factors (stated above) differ among certificate- versus degree-seeking students at FPCUs? b. How do the factors (stated above) differ among students enrolled in vocational/technical programs versus academic programs at FPCUs? c. How do the factors (stated above) differ between for-profit and not-for-profit college attendees? Using the Beginning Postsecondary Students 2004–2009 data and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, a series of descriptive and multilevel logistic regression analyses were conducted on the completion measures. In-depth analyses were conducted on completion measure 1, which was understood to be the most inclusive definition of credential completion at the institution of initial entry over a six-year time period. Key findings were as follows: • Credential completion rates varied substantially depending on method of measurement. Forty-eight percent of FPCU students attained a credential at a FPCU within six years. When exact match of initial credential goal and attainment was defined as completion, 55% of certificate seekers, 26% of associate’s degree seekers, and only 22% of bachelor’s degree seekers attained credentials as they had planned within a six-year period. From the longitudinal, multi-institutional perspective, only a handful of students completed a credential after leaving the FPCU of initial entry. • Controlling for the variables in the model, attending four-year FPCUs decreased the odds of certificate completion by 84% relative to attending a less than two-year FPCU. No difference was found between attending four-year FPCUs or less than two-year FPCUs and degree completion (associate’s or bachelor’s degree). Compared to less than two-year FPCUs, attending two-year FPCUs did not differentiate on the likelihood of attaining a degree or certificate completion. • This study found clear differences across for-profit and not-for-profit institutions in the role of three agents of socialization—adviser, faculty, and peers. While interactions with adviser, faculty, and peers were all found to be significant in predicting not-for-profit four-year college students’ completion, interaction with adviser was the only significant variable for FPCU students’ completion, and peer interaction was the only significant variable in community college students’ degree completion. • There was little evidence that FPCUs better serve marginalized students than those students in the not-for-profit sector. For-profit college students were negatively influenced by their nontraditional student status in a similar manner to students in broad access four-year not-for-profit colleges; nontraditional student status did not have a negative influence on credential completion in community colleges. This study’s findings contribute to theory, research, and policy. They suggest that modifications to traditional higher education theories can increase understanding of for-profit college students. In particular, this study offered new ways of operationalizing academic and social integration that more appropriately reflect the institutional norms of FPCUs. This study also contributed to policy discussions by offering multiple measures of completion and illustrating how varied measures lead to different completion rates.