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

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account the level of academic preparation of each institution’s students when they first

enroll. For this reason, the report provides tables that allow individual colleges and

universities to compute an expected degree completion rate based on the academic

preparation and other characteristics of their students at the time they first enroll.

When adjustments are made for these expected retention rates, institutional

differences diminish substantially. For example, although the actual four-year rates of

private universities are more than 40% higher than those of the public colleges (67.1%

versus 24.3%), this difference diminishes to about 15% when expected rates are taken

into account. Thus, when the actual degree completion rates of different types of

institutions are compared after adjusting for expected rates, four-year rates of public

colleges and universities fall only 11% and 15%, respectively, below their expected

rates. The actual rates of different types of private institutions are between 2% and 6%

higher than their expected rates.

When six-year rates are used, the actual and expected rates for public

institutions differ by only 5%. These results suggest that students who choose a public

over a private institution will run a slightly greater risk not only of not completing their

bachelor’s degree, but also of taking longer to complete that degree.

Academic preparation also helps to explain many of the differences in degree

completion rates among racial groups. The relatively low six-year completion rate for

African-American students, for example, appears to be entirely attributable to their lower

level of academic preparation.

Researchers at HERI are currently in the process of updating these findings

through a new retention study based on students who entered college during the fall

term of 2004.

This article is adapted from:

Higher Education Research Institute, “How ‘Good’ Is Your Retention Rate?:

Using the CIRP Freshman Survey to Evaluate Undergraduate Persistence” [research
brief], 2005.


1. A. W. Astin and L. Oseguera, “Degree Attainment Rates at American Colleges

and Universities,” Higher Education Research Institute, University of California-Los
Angeles, 2005. (The full report, on which this summary is based, is available from the
Higher Education Research Institute, Graduate School of Education and Information
Studies, University of California, Los Angeles.)

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