Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Degree Name

Counselor Education and Supervision

Department or School/College

School of Education

Committee Chair

Catherine B. Jenni

Commitee Members

Aida Hutz, Merle J. Farrier, John Sommers-Flanagan, William P. McCaw


Freshmen, Higher Education, Phenomenological, Retention, Attrition, Drop-out


University of Montana


The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to gain clear, precise systematic descriptions of the experienced meaning of voluntary non-continuation of academic studies, attrition, after the first-year. Based on interviews with six college freshman in academic good standing, with phenomenology as a research method, the study documented ways in which college freshman perceived, experienced and defined their decision and experience of dropping out of college.

Data were collected via one-on-one, open-ended, unstructured interviews conducted to gain an uncensored account of the experience of attrition reflected by the query, "Please share with me your experience of deciding not to continue studies at The University of Montana. Share your thoughts and feelings, the negative, positive, and the neutral, in as much detail as you remember, about your decision and experience of leaving college."

Through a process of phenomenological reduction, results of the interviews provided essential descriptions of the experience in the participants' natural language. Analysis revealed that participants felt excited and hopeful prior to matriculation and quickly became overwhelmed and confused early first semester. Mid-semester students' feelings of being unfocused surfaced, exhibited in isolation and decreasing academic motivation. Participants' eventual academic failure initiated feelings of disappointment and embarrassment, sponsoring an ultimate disengagement from the university. An essential structure or theme of identity loss emerged as an important developmental struggle experienced by the students as they decided not to persist in their academic studies.

An unanticipated benefit of the study was to the participants themselves, through the provision of a forum in which they could examine, identify, express and come to a better understanding of their experience of dropping out. Through developing a deeper understanding of freshmen attrition, the study has implications for higher education administrators, college retention and recruitment programs, educators, and school counselors interested in improving the quality of the freshman experience and ultimately encouraging success in higher education.



© Copyright 2008 Cheryl L. Minnick