Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ashley J. Holmes

Second Advisor

Lynee Gaillet

Third Advisor

Michael Harker


This project responds to increasing efforts in higher education to retain students, i.e., keep them enrolled until graduation, through various initiatives. Building upon the arguments of composition scholars Matthew McCurrie (2009), Sara Webb-Sunderhaus (2010), and Pegeen Reichert Powell (2013), who propose that retention efforts can overlook students’ needs, goals, and lived experiences, this study evaluates whether retention initiatives communicate a definition of success that ignores and/or aligns with how students value success. This project draws on an historical overview of US success ideology to contextualize a case study of Georgia State University, a leading institution in the country for raising its retention rates. Georgia State’s Strategic Plan and celebrated retention initiatives are then analyzed to determine how the institution defines success; that analysis is compared with data gathered from focus groups and interviews. Ultimately, this study suggests that the definition of success is not necessarily where students and universities diverge; rather, the data gathered has revealed that far more conflicting are the ideas students and universities possess for how to achieve success.

This project argues that while historically success has been valued as the achievement of social and financial upward mobility, Georgia State’s framing of student success communicates, more narrowly, the value of efficient mobility. From the analysis of students’ perspectives, a framework is provided to show how a focus on efficiency provokes a shift in methods for how universities support students’ pursuit of success, a shift from what this author terms facilitative methods to methods that can be more dictative of students’ college experiences. This framework is used to argue that dictative methods of support risk removing agency from and present new challenges for students whose lifestyles and responsibilities conflict with their universities’ preferred path towards graduation; often these students are commuters, non-traditional and/or are students from low-income households. This dissertation concludes by providing a model for writing program administrators to consider how they can work toward promoting more facilitative, and thus more inclusive, retention practices.