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As Talk About Retention Rises, Rates Drop

Get it right the first time, I say.

When asked why someone ought to hire an educational consultant, one of my top five reasons is predicated on the fact that a very large percentage of college freshmen do not return for their sophomore year.

ACT’s latest study on college and university retention rates dropped in 2007-8 to the lowest level in the 25 years ACT has been tracking this data. You can see the an article about the study here at Inside Higher Ed.

College retention rates from first to second year stand at 65.7%.  That means 34.3% of college freshmen do not return.

Why is this?

Well, some just drop out because they cannot handle college. As access to college has been stressed by educators and policy makers, more students have been accepted to college that probably should not be there. A recent article in the Rocky Mountain News indicated that huge numbers of high school graduates need remediation in order to even start college work: in 10 out of the 70 largest districts, more than 50% of students are not ready for college level work.

Others transfer to another college, because they made a poor choice. Or they take a year or two off to make some money, and then return.  ACT has a difficult time tracking these students as they move from place to place:  this study does not look at transfer rates.  It is possible that a proportion of those students who don’t return actually do return to some other college to complete their degree.  (However, keep in mind that college graduation rates have not increased all that much in the past decade or two:  the proportion of our population with a Bachelor’s degree has remained steady at about 25% for quite a while).

While this issue is complex and the explanations for this drop in retention rates creates some controversy among educators and statisticians, it does have a very concrete impact on individual students as they map out their educational trajectory.

Too many students think too little about what college is and what factors will make them both happy and successful in college.  Different institutions offer different experiences.  The structure and delivery of instruction can be extremely different from what one has experienced in high school, and some students can adapt easily, while others cannot.

If more high school students asked themselves more introspective questions about the type of education they want and need, we might see retention rates rise.

If our high school students got better college counseling and advice, we might see retention rates rise as students made more informed decisions.

Mark Montgomery
College Counselor


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