How 'Good' is Your Retention Rate? (6 pages)

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Three different retention measures were used: baccalaureate completion within

four years, baccalaureate completion within six years and students still enrolled after six

years as degree completers. The report also includes several formulas an individual

institution can use to compute expected degree attainment rates for each of these three

retention outcomes. One set of formulas uses information that most institutions have

readily available on their entering freshman classes: high school grade point average

(HSGPA), SAT/ACT composite score, race and gender. Separate formulas are included

for institutions that lack test data or data on students’ race. Any institution can use these

formulas to compute an expected degree completion rate that can be compared to its

actual retention rates to gauge the effectiveness of student retention programs.

Advantage of being a CIRP participant

The CIRP Freshman Survey contains all the data needed for computing

expected degree completion rates based on the HSGPAs, test scores, and sex and race

of entering students. However, the study also shows substantially more accurate

estimates of expected rates can be obtained by using many of the other entering

characteristics included in the CIRP survey, such as life and degree goals, expectations

about college, sources of financial aid, academic major and self-ratings.

Adding these additional CIRP variables to the equation increases the accuracy of

the prediction by 57% for four-year completion and by 50% for six-year completion. Of

particular interest is the fact that in these expanded formulas, the test scores add little to

the prediction of four-year completion and nothing to the prediction of six-year


Apparently, the other CIRP freshman variables contain virtually all of the relevant

information that is contained in the SAT or ACT scores. These longer formulas would be

especially useful to institutions that do not require the SAT/ACT for admission. The

results reported later in this article are based on 56,818 students who entered 262 four-

year colleges and universities in fall 1994 and whose degree attainment and enrollment

status was determined in fall 2000. Results were statistically adjusted to reflect the entire

population of freshmen entering baccalaureate-granting institutions in fall 1994.

Major study findings

Fewer college students are completing college in four years than was the case a

decade ago. Only 36.4% were able to complete their bachelor’s degrees within four

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