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Why School Graduation and Retention Rates Are Important to Consider

Deciding what school to attend is a huge decision, and there are a lot of factors students should consider when making it. Some, like the perks offered on campus, seem important at first, but should not be the only reason you pick a school.

Two figures that have gained more interest in the last few years are graduation and retention rates. But what is so important about these?

Graduation Rate

A university’s graduation rate is the measure of how many students who started in the same cohort will leave with a diploma within six years. With the passage of the 1990 Student Right to Know Act, the percent of people who graduate “within 150% of the normal time for completion of or graduation from the program” must be made public by any degree-granting postsecondary institution.

How do you find a school’s graduation rate?

A search online with the name of any school followed by ‘graduation rate’ will quickly bring you to a page where the school has posted this information. You can also reach out to the admissions office to speak to someone about the graduation rate.

What is the national average graduation rate?

As reported by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, “the overall national six-year completion rate for the fall 2011 cohort was 56.9%, an increase of 2.1% from the fall 2010 cohort.”

While the six-year graduation rate is important, you should also consider the four-year rate as well. This figure is not required by the Student Right to Know Act but is often self-reported alongside the six-year rate.

Why is a school’s graduation rate important?

The graduation rate gives students insight into how many students are finishing their degrees in a timely manner once they enroll. It not only is a transparent metric that holds a school accountable, but it also can help a student measure the quality of the school.

There are flaws in relying on the graduation rate alone when considering a school. For example, students who transfer and finish their degree at another school are not included when compiling the graduation rate of a school.

Retention Rate

While the graduation rate measures how many students leave with a degree within four or six years, the retention rate measures the percentage of a school’s first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at that school the next year. Some universities have whole offices set up for recruiting students, but drop the ball when it comes to keeping them.

How do you find a school’s retention rate?

Unlike the six year graduation rate, schools are not required to publish their retention rate each year. Some schools will publish this statistic on the same page as their graduation rate.

If a school does not feature this metric in an easy to find page, there are sites like U.S. News that will include the retention rate and other key data points.

What is the national average retention rate?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “in fall 2016, the full-time retention rate in postsecondary institutions was 75.1%, based on 5,543 institutions.” However, this average is fairly different if you group like institutions together:

Completion at Starting vs. Different Institution by Starting Institution Type
Completed at Starting Institution Completed at Different Institution
Four-Year Public 82.7% 17.3%
Four-Year Private Nonprofit 83.8% 16.2%
Four-Year Private For-Profit 62.6% 37.4%
Two-Year Public 70.6% 29.4%
Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

Why is a school’s retention rate important?

The retention rate measures how many students will return for their second year of school, and indicate if a school is living up to the expectations they set when recruiting students. There are also reasons out of the school’s control that could lead a student not to return, and it is important to take this measure with a grain of salt.

Looking Beyond Graduation and Retention Rates

While both of these metrics are important, they should be considered as a part of the bigger picture. Students leave after their first year of school or do not graduate within six years for a variety of reasons that might be out of a school’s control.

According to College Raptor, “there is some noticeable correlation between the selectivity of the college and higher retention and graduation rates, but that doesn’t mean that a school that falls below these numbers is a bad place. Be careful to compare like colleges, or apples to apples.”

If you are really excited about a school, but the graduation and retention rates don’t look as good as other like schools, it is worth reaching out to the admissions office or current students to learn more. Picking out a school is a major life and financial decision, so do your research and pick the best place for your future.

Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.

This article was written by Carolyn Pairitz Morris, Senior Editor at Earnest.

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