Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Tuesdi Helbig (Director), Doug McElroy, Kristin Wilson

Degree Program

Educational Leadership Doctoral Program

Degree Type

Doctor of Education


Research on factors related to persistence suggest that re-enrollment decisions are based upon an evaluation of the returns on investment in education. If students perceive that the costs of a college education outweigh the benefits, they will discontinue their involvement by choosing not to re-enroll. As a result, students’ choices to maintain their enrollment in postsecondary education can be an effective indicator of affordability. This study examined the degree to which financially independent undergraduate students’ persistence decisions are related to financial factors, including unmet need, total financial aid received, and type of financial aid received. The data examined in this study consisted of 3,662 financially independent undergraduate students who were enrolled in a four-year public institution within the state of Kentucky. The analysis was based upon data collected from two academic years: fall 2012, spring 2013, and fall 2013. The dependent variable was persistence, which was defined as re-enrollment at the same institution, graduation, or transfer to another four-year institution. The selection of independent variables was influenced by St. John’s (1992) workable model of persistence and included the following: background characteristics, college experiences, unmet need, total aid received, and type of aid received. Sequential logistic regression analyses were performed to determine the degree to which the independent variables were related to persistence. Changes in probability measures (Delta p statistics) were calculated for each variable in order to determine the relationship of a one-unit change in the independent variable to a change in the dependent variable. The analyses revealed that, as compared to background characteristics, unmet need, college experience, total aid received, and type of aid received were a significant predictor of persistence for financially independent undergraduate students, with a medium to large effect size. Unmet need, total aid received, and certain types of aid received also were significant predictors of persistence, with each possessing a small effect size. As compared to background characteristics and college experience, unmet need was a significant predictor of persistence for financially independent undergraduate students. Total aid received also was a significant predictor of persistence when compared to background characteristics, college experience, and financial factors. For this group of financially independent students, the analyses also indicated that aid awarded as workstudy, grants, or need-based loans were more effective in predicting between-year persistence than aid awarded as tuition waivers, scholarships, and non-need based loans. These predictors of between-year persistence for financially independent undergraduate students hold promise for decision makers within the Commonwealth of Kentucky (and beyond) and should be explored further.


Educational Leadership | Higher Education