Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Community College Leadership

Committee Director

Dana Burnett

Committee Member

Mitchell R. Williams

Committee Member

Susan S. Wood


The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between first-semester mathematics performance and fall-to-fall retention for first-time-in-college, degree-seeking community college students. The study further refined the investigation by seeking to determine if the significance of this relationship was affected by student readiness for college-level mathematics as of the first semester of enrollment at the institution under study.

The sample chosen for this study consisted of 1518 first-time-in-college, degree-seeking students enrolled in fall semester 2011 at a large, multi-campus community college in Virginia. The dependent variable was fall-to-fall retention, a commonly applied student success metric in the Virginia Community College System. The primary independent variable, first-semester mathematics performance, was tripartite, with each student having either enrolled in and successfully completed a first-semester mathematics course, enrolled in but failed to complete a first-semester mathematics course successfully, or deferred enrollment in mathematics until after the first semester. Quantitative statistical analysis was applied to determine the significance of the relationship between these variables within each of the subgroups and demographic constituencies.

The study found that, regardless of readiness level, students who enrolled in and successfully completed a first-semester mathematics course experienced a fall-to-fall retention rate nearly 20% higher than that experienced by the sample taken as a whole. Meanwhile students who were unsuccessful in a first-semester mathematics class, as well as those who deferred enrollment in mathematics, experienced retention rates approximately I0% lower than that experienced by the sample overall.

The study concluded that successful, first-semester enrollment in mathematics portends significantly higher fall-to-fall retention rates for degree-seeking students. However, disturbingly low success rates in both college-level and developmental-level mathematics courses suggest that first-semester enrollment in mathematics is a high-risk strategy for improving retention.