The importance of peer relations in college student retention: An exploratory study

Angela Durante, Fordham University


This study examined the place of peer relationships in the retention of late adolescent college freshmen using Tinto's widely-cited Theory of Individual Departure. Tinto's theory does not consider the life-stage and developmental status of the late adolescent freshman and how this facilitates or impedes student integration, an essential element leading to student retention in higher education. Traditional-age freshmen are unlike other college students because they are the only student group where age-related psychological developmental factors are important in their strategies to adapt to new social situations. Particularly important is the late adolescent's reliance on peers to provide not only companionship, but a stabilizing environment for managing new situations. Using indepth interviews, the study examined 27 17-to-19 year-old first-time college freshman (10 males, 17 females) enrolled in two private institutions. Peers were found to play a critical role in their introduction and integration into college. By their own accounts, the subjects cited peers as their primary sources of support and assistance during the unsettling period of adaptation to college. Adults, whether faculty, college staff or parents, were reported to used as resources principally for students' practical needs and when students or peers were unable to provide help with those needs. The findings also showed that peers were influential in the students' deliberations to leave school or to stay in school. These findings were compared to and supported by quantitative data from a student survey (113 respondents) conducted at another similar institution. The study identified a three-phase peer relations process: the first, affecting students during the early days of college entrance; in the second phase, students sought other friends and peers on the basis of homogamy, that is, selecting others "like themselves." In the third phase, students formed same-sex groups: young men tended to form small groups of several students, while young women selected one or two "close friends," while maintaining a relatively differentiated network of other kinds of friends ("school friends," "home friends," etc.). This peer relations process was seen to be relatively the same for all students when race/ethnicity, socio-economic status and residential versus non-residential status were examined. In a follow-up study to determine which subjects reenrolled in the sophomore year, socioeconomic status was conspicuous in its impact, even when peer relations or other positive integrating factors were present. Five of the eight students who withdrew from school were influenced in their decisions by considerable financial pressures and needs.

Subject Area

Higher education|Educational sociology

Recommended Citation

Durante, Angela, "The importance of peer relations in college student retention: An exploratory study" (1995). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9530026.