Open Access
Li, Dai
Graduate Program:
Higher Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 06, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Donald E Heller, Committee Chair
  • Roger Lewis Geiger, Committee Member
  • Patrick T Terenzini, Committee Member
  • Spiro E Stefanou, Committee Member
  • educational pathways
  • degree attainment
  • college choice
This dissertation examines the college choice and degree attainments among students who were originally enrolled in four-year institutions and involved in different educational pathways. Most prior research that investigated multi-institutional attendance patterns focused on two-year college students. This dissertation shifts the research focus to students starting at four-year institutions who need to attend other institutions to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Three research questions regarding the students’ decision process for enrollment were as follows: (a) What factors affect the students’ choice of educational pathways; (b) what factors affect transfer students’ choice of destination institutions; and (c) how do educational pathways affect the probability of bachelor’s degree attainment among students involved in different educational pathways? The interactionalist model which indicates that students filter institutional environments through their characteristics and pre-college experience and then make decisions of persistence or withdrawal serves as the overarching conceptual framework of this study. Student’s outside-college experience is considered for students who have ever broken their enrollment in higher education. Each research question employs different research methods including logistic regression, the hurdle model, and Heckman’s two-step model. The major research findings of this study are that students who attended more selective institutions for their first matriculation have greater odds of returning to their original institutions than of transferring to other institutions after stopping out. Institutional attributes show a statistically significant but trivial influence on students’ decisions. Moreover, transfer students have a much lower probability of bachelor’s degree attainment than students who stayed until the end of the sixth year of first matriculation. Students who broke their enrollments in higher education have an even lower probability of degree attainment than continuous transfers. Students who are continuously enrolled in higher education, yet attend more than one institution, appear to be less likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree than the ones who stay in one institution. Such results suggest that policy makers should encourage students to remain in their original institutions. Educational practitioners may inform students of the risk of degree incompletion by attending more than one institution on one hand, but assist transfer students in better integrating into destination institutions on the other. Given that this dissertation examined students who transferred only once, a future study may extend the current research by considering students who are involved in more complex educational pathways.