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Staff Writers
Updated March 24, 2021

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Students deciding on the college or university best for them should consider the Freshman Retention Rate percentage as a factor in their choice. Why does it matter? It is important because so many things can affect whether a student remains in school or drops out. According to some reports, a third of students on average, do not return. The school culture and the ability of the institution to support students and prevent attrition is an indicator of student success. CBS News Moneywatch says the percentages are important to parents enrolling their children in college for the first time because they predict whether the school is likely to be a good investment.

How are the figures calculated and what influences them? Here are some answers to those questions.

Defining Retention Rate

Educational articles tend to expound (and expand) on this term. There are many variables that affect the rate of retention for higher education. Simply put, though, retention is an indicator of how happy freshmen are in a school.

Calculating the Rate

Schools record retention data on first-time students admitted in a certain class then compare it to the data on returning students the next year, expressing it as a ratio or percentage. For instance, if 1,000 students were admitted in 2017, and 700 of them are still enrolled in 2018, statisticians divide the second number by the first and come up with .70 or 70 percent.

Pertinent Factors

Many variables affect retention. Students may have family problems, become homesick, run out of money or have poor grades, for example. Research in the Journal of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) indicated that general success in high school and high school GPA are two powerful predictors of student college success. Those with "A" averages were seven times more likely to remain in college than those with a "C" average. SAT and ACT scores are good predictors as well. Another variable is gender. Women seem to be more likely to persevere than men. Asian-American and White students had higher retention rates than other races. Of course, there are factors inherent in that statement such as income and other issues that make that percentage difficult to support. First-year college grades are predictors too because a student who is doing well is less apt to "jump ship."

Ranking: 30 Best Liberal Arts Colleges in the West, Ranked by Return on Investment (ROI)

Some Numbers, For Example

According to a US News and World Report, public community colleges seem to have the lowest retention rates, followed by private, liberal arts schools, public research universities, and private universities. The national average for all schools is a retention rate of 65.7. Colombia University retains 99 percent of its freshmen. So do the University of Chicago and Yale. Tennessee State University retains 47 percent of its freshmen. Part of the difference may come from the fact that some schools have broader admission policies. An article in The Daily Nebraskan says that is likely one reason that the University of Nebraska at Lincoln is grappling with a relatively low rate. Students can find the percentages for schools they are considering by searching the US News and World Report rankings.

Although there are a lot of things that affect whether students return to a college for a successive year, the retention percentages are indicators of whether schools can support and satisfy their students. That is why students should consider the Freshman Retention Rate when deciding upon which university or college to attend.

Source: CBS News Moneywatch

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