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Signficance of Freshman Retention Rate of Selective Colleges/Universities

GnocchiBGnocchiB Registered User Posts: 1,249 Senior Member
edited January 24 in Parents Forum
Graduation and retention rates tend to track admission selectivity (stronger entering students are more likely to graduate, and on time). What may be more relevant are the rates compared to the rates that one would expect for schools of that level of admission selectivity.

This came up on a thread I was recently reading, and it's something I've been wondering about as I am starting to research possible schools for DS19. Specifically, is there really that much of a difference in "student happiness" at schools with, say, a 92% freshman-sophomore retention rate vs. a school with a 95+% retention rate of freshmen?

Obviously the retention rate isn't a huge factor in selecting a school, but it does seem like another metric that's worth noticing, if even briefly - along with alumni giving metrics.

Thoughts? Should I assume anything above 90% is about as positive as a school in the 97 or 98% range?
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Replies to: Signficance of Freshman Retention Rate of Selective Colleges/Universities

  • engineer4lifeengineer4life Registered User Posts: 422 Member
    I honestly don't know how to analyze stats like. For example, a private school near me finds 97% of students attend college post high school, while the public school my child attends only find 60% of students attend college post-high school. Does this mean that I should enroll my child in private school because they have a 97% chance? Probably there is some self-selection involved.

    I'd gander that most high retention schools are filled with students who like the school a lot and are likely to graduate regardless of whether they attended, and low retention schools have more students that are at-risk of dropping out regardless of where they attended. I'd probably not say that it shows how happy students are with the school.

    I think the more important stat is how much your S or D likes the particular school. The more they love a school the less chance they'll drop out.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 57,114 Senior Member
    edited January 24
    https://www.heri.ucla.edu/GradRateCalculator.php is a crude estimator of 4, 5, and 6 year graduation rates using some basic information about the students at a college. An input that this basic calculator lacks is information regarding student finances.

    You can also try it for a pretend college whose students all like your student, to see what it predicts for your student's chance of graduation in 4, 5, and 6 years.
  • northwestynorthwesty Registered User Posts: 2,122 Senior Member
    Retention and grad rates tell you mostly about the inputs into the school -- meaning selectivity. Because of its extreme selectivity, Yale is always going to have sky high retention and grad rates. Regardless of what Yale actually does with those students while at Yale.

    The USNWR rankings include a calc on how well a school under/over performs its expected numbers based on the demographics of its student population. So Yale doesn't get credit for retaining 99% of its freshmen if it would be expected (given who its freshmen are) that it would retain 99%.

    I guess that calc could be a little helpful if you saw a school that was way under-performing its expected stats.
  • wis75wis75 Registered User Posts: 11,443 Senior Member
    What about those who transfer INTO the schools as well as those who either drop out or transfer to another school? How does that affect 4/5/6 year graduation statistics quoted, retention rates...?

    It seems to me that if you look at statistics for all schools you will find variations that are indicators. 60/70% versus 90% is a real difference. If 1/4 to 1/3 leave it means the cohort starting will be very different than those still around the last years. It may mean the people in your freshman dorm do not have as much in common with you. It could be finances, liking the school, ability to do the work... Imagine looking around the first day/week and having someone state every third or fourth person will not be around in a couple of years.
  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 Registered User Posts: 8,111 Senior Member
    ^ that happened to my S'12. Much of his class dropped out or transferred after the first year (even semester). It was a big bummer for him to lose so many friends he'd made and I wish we'd paid more attention to retention rates (he also eventually left).
  • TooOld4SchoolTooOld4School Registered User Posts: 1,993 Senior Member
    edited January 24
    The most selective colleges have retention rates of 95%+ and 6 year graduation rates above 90%. I would focus more on the graduation rate than freshman retention, that will give you a better indication of the quality of the more advanced classes. More recent stats are going to be skewed a bit by the poor economy - if the uni does not provide very significant financial aid in case of a setback (e.g. job loss/illness) that might be a factor in your decision too - even if you do not qualify today.
  • sbballersbballer Registered User Posts: 211 Junior Member
    when comparing retention rates compare apples to apples.. not oranges to apples.

    a school with a strong athletic program such as Stanford will by nature have a lower retention rate and 4 year grad rate... red shirting.. going pro.. taking time off to train for the olympics - than a non FBS school.

    alumni giving rates correlate with happiness? maybe.. but I seriously doubt it. more likely due to more efficient processes schools put in place to promote alumni giving behaviors after graduation than any sense of greater happiness.

    look behind the numbers.. a lot of these criteria used to rank are dubious at best (especially something as personal as "happiness") and are not going to give you an accurate picture.
  • alooknacalooknac Registered User Posts: 843 Member
    @wis75 I'm pretty sure transfers IN are not counted, the retention rate refers to
    Retention of first-time degree-seeking undergraduates
    I believe transfers out as well as dropouts factor into retention rate.
    When we were in this ballgame, I considered any rate over 90% very good. Really not that many schools have those rates and my D ended up somewhere that had lower, but not terribly lower, rates.

    Google retention and IPEDS for lots of details. I believe this quote delineates the only exclusions:
    Adjusted student counts exclude students who died or were totally and permanently disabled, served in the armed forces (including those called to active duty), served with a foreign aid service of the federal government (e.g., Peace Corps), or served on official church missions.
  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 4,213 Senior Member
    Is there much difference between 92% and 95% retention rates in terms of student happiness? I doubt it. As mentioned above, a lot of that has to do with selectivity. When we researched, I kept a notebook recording that type of data. My D's "easiest" safety school had a retention rate of 89%, and we both thought that was a good number. I think anything above 80% is an indicator that students are relatively satisfied.
  • psywarpsywar Registered User Posts: 456 Member
    @profdad2021
    I think freshmen retention indicates how good a "match" has been made between the entering class and the college, both academically and socially.
    really excellent point. I think a school's retention rate and giving rate should be a significant factor in choosing a school (much like experienced car buyers look at ownership costs, recall issues, and customer satisfaction ratings when buying a car - the initial purchase is just the start of a multi-year relationship). You are spending 4 years at a school, best to truly understand if you'll be happy there. I'm thnakful that Princeton tops both rentention and giving rates, they must be doing something right...
  • lvvcsflvvcsf Registered User Posts: 1,545 Senior Member
    edited January 25
    Not scientific, just an opinion, but I think both retention rates and graduation rates would probably correlate well with ability to pay (ie. can simply afford it or has scholarships/financial aid) and preparedness for the rigor of the university. The most selective universities are going to have students who do well in both areas. Ironically, the less prepared the student the higher the likelihood they will not be given the kind of aid necessary for them to complete school. They will end up in schools that are less selective and less expensive and are more likely to drop out or take longer to graduate. I think that those rates say less about the education provided at the universities than it does about the students who attend them. A high performing student will most likely be high performing at a less selective school. There may be other benefits to a more selective school but retention wouldn't be as much of an issue for that type of student.
  • northwestynorthwesty Registered User Posts: 2,122 Senior Member
    edited January 25
    "Not scientific, just an opinion, but I think both retention rates and graduation rates would probably correlate well with ability to pay (ie. can simply afford it or has scholarships/financial aid) and preparedness for the rigor of the university."

    Ding ding ding ding.

    Top retainer schools are Columbia, Chicago, Yale (99%); Brown, Dartmouth, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Notre Dame, Penn (98%).

    Good inputs (smart, motivated, well prepared and well resourced students) equal good outputs.
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