Literature Review: ‘They Come But Do They Finish?’

In continuing with my research in current and past articles pertaining to universities and academic improvement I have started looking at ‘retention’ and related studies. This is in hopes of starting a research project to help keep students through their entire college careers. For this purpose I read Goodstein and Szarek’s ‘They Come But Do They Finish? Program Completion for Honors Students at a Major Public University, 1998-2010’ from the Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council (full citation is at the bottom).


The researchers were interested in how being in a honors program changed student completion. They completed some meta-analysis of other studies and found some gaps in published studies. Namely the numbers of honors students who complete their program. Reviewing numbers revealed that only a minority of honors students completed the track that they began in or on honors. They postulated that this may mean that 1) students didn’t begin in programs they were well suited to, 2) students chosen for honors were not engaged enough to stay, 3) students could not keep up with honors class load or requirements, 4) or a possible mixture of all three.


Currently most institutions believe that being in an honors program raises student retention. Goodstein and Szarek agreed with research that Campbell and Fuqua had presented in a different paper (for later reading) that factors like GPA, gender, and housing for freshmen honors students would likely be bigger factors in program completion. This could mean that just being a honors student may not matter as much as being actually well suited to a program and being financially able to stay in full time.


What they found was that there was a marked increase in the percentage of students that graduated in their programs were honors students. What their research also showed however were that the students who stayed in their programs were also students that were heavily engaged in student programs, housing, and extracurricular programs.


This lead me to believe that the study was actually studying engagement and not so much about whether or not they were in honors programs. The researchers found things like students in too many hours or taking too many majors were more likely to drop out and that programs that focused on quality and admissions standards were more likely to increase completion rates.


Conclusion, this was a great study as it not only asked a question that had little research but also identified that it had issues of its own. Taking these issues and applying it to the next study is how good science is performed. If you are interested in retention, completion, and student engagement then this is a very good study to get you asking questions and thinking about issues in this field.


Work Cited:

GOODSTEIN, L., & SZAREK, P. (2013). They Come But Do They Finish? Program Completion for Honors Students at a Major Public University, 1998-2010. Journal Of The National Collegiate Honors Council14(2), 85-104.

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