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Recruiting Intelligence

Student Retention Rates: Investment Pays Off in a BIG Way

Student retention is one of the key buzz words in higher education. As a metric, this one is a key indicator or an individual institution's success in providing a valued education and in aggregate, an indicator of our country's ability to export education. 

We consider the Education Trust's guide on analyzing and increasing student retention a worthwhile read. And yes, we know you are busy. Here's why we recommend you squeeze this report into your day:

  • Very practical and hands-on, not just a nice to know, research. 
  • Honesty and transparency by the participating institutions. 
  • Good clear facts. 

We always get surprising looks when I mention to people outside our field of higher education that graduating is statistically much more important for your future professional success than the choice of school. To be clear, choice of school is important, and that choice may correlate to a student's chances of graduating. Still, given graduation rates overall, getting to the degree means a lot.

We all know that there is more work to be done to improve graduation rates and universities cannot do this alone. Student work ethic, availability of financial resources for tuition and fees and many other factors derived from familiy, peer groups and other societal influencers have a big impact. Universities certainly have a hand in making supportive resources and services available to students to help them succeed. The financial incentive to universities is there: you have to recruit fewer new students if your existing cohort stays with you (yes, we know we are preaching to the choir). 

Before we dive into the charts we chose from the report, let us point out one of our complaints with retention numbers from our work with international student enrollment. The data available does not break out retention figures for international students. We know that the data exists but we haven't seen it publicly available. Please help us if you know where to find it. 

So, "What about the report?" you ask. Yes, we are getting to that now. The report shows data from six universities that have made great efforts to improve their retention rates during the past 10 years. The list includes: Florida State, Georgia State, San Diego State, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, University of Southern Californian, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, University of Alabama and Virginia Commonwealth University. 


Table 1 shows tremendous growth rates in the right hand column and you quickly realize just how important these growth rates are when you look at the absolute graduation rate having increased from 38 to 65%. And unfortunately, no surprise to most, the minority populations show lower graduation rates.

Note also the impressive improvement in results from San Diego. Given the demographic shifts in the U.S. with large increases in hispanic student populations we believe this work is increasingly important. 

Figure 3 (original table numbering from report) shows graphically the improved results of the institutions making the investment in improving student retention rates. 


We include Table 8 here for your consideration as you hone your retention rate data gathering/analysis.