June 27, 2017

Understanding College Retention and Completion Rates

When evaluating schools for your son or daughter, you may see a lot of terms tossed around without much explanation – in particular, things like “retention” and “completion” rates.

What do retention and completion rates mean for your student? What should you look for in a school to help improve the chances your son or daughter will succeed?

Retention Rates

About 1 in 3 students don’t return to their college for their 2nd year.

How many first-year students return to the same college for their 2nd year? This is known as the retention rate.

A high retention rate indicates a high level of student attachment across a number of areas including the education they are receiving, the professors, campus and financial aid they are receiving. The students find the criteria they hold in high regard are being met.

On the other hand, a school with a low retention rate indicates student’s needs are not being met successfully.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), the national average for overall retention of students starting in the fall of 2014 was 70.2% for public institutions and a bit higher at 75.5% for private institutions.

You can easily check to see what prospective college retention rates are on the College Factual site. Just search for a school and click the Outcomes tab. From here you can see the freshman retention rate.

Completion Rates

Whereas retention rates focus on the first year of school, completion rates focus on the end goal – graduation.

Schools typically give two types of completion rate statistics – on-time and delayed. The “On-time” rate is four years for a bachelor degree, and two years for an associates’ degree.

The “Delayed” rate refers to students completing their degree within three years for a two-year college or six years for a four-year college. Thus, the delayed rate will always be higher than the on-time rate.

Obviously when looking at colleges, be wary of colleges which have a low completion rate. A college which can’t help students succeed may indicate serious problems at the college – whether it is low-quality instructors or a lack of motivated students.

According to the NSCRC, the national average for delayed completion rates for 4-year public institutions with full-time students is about 71%. This drops off significantly for part-time students who have a completion rate of just 16.7%. Two-year institutions have a lower completion rate on average with just 41.6% completing their degree within six years if attending full-time while 18.4% complete when attending part-time.

As mentioned above, you can find college completion rates on College Factual’s Outcomes tab for any school you are interested looking up.

Why Retention & Completion Rates Matter

Students who don’t come back to school have either dropped out or transferred to another institution.

Students may think transferring colleges is not that big of a deal, but it can be very detrimental to a student progressing. Not only does a transfer cost time and money, it also makes it more difficult for students to graduate on time or at all.

Only 13% of students are able to graduate in six years after transferring to another institution. The biggest blocker for transfer students is not being able to transfer credits. Only 32% of transfer students are able to keep all of their credits, meaning students will most likely have to retake classes to earn credits they have already earned before.

Graduating on time means a lower tuition bill, as well as a quicker path to a career. This can greatly increase your return on your education investment.

Based on a report by Noel Levitzthe median cost to recruit a student is $2,433 for private colleges and $457 for public colleges. Obviously a college benefits financially when they do not have to spend this money every time a freshman fails to return for their sophomore year.

What to Look For

When looking at retention and completion rates, if you find a school that really appeals to you but they have a low rate, be sure to ask the admissions office why they think the rate is low. Maybe the setting is unique and students find living there unappealing after time or maybe the instructors aren’t as passionate about teaching as they should be.

Although low rates can be a sign of a bad college, it can also be a sign that the students attending didn’t fully mesh with the school. That’s why finding the right fit major and school is so important.

If you haven’t figured out some great matches for your student, you can log into the College Factual site and click the “Calculate your best match” button. Fill out questions on topics that are important to you and your student and we will give you back some schools and majors that may be a place to start investigating.

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