What are freshman retention rates and why do they matter?

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What are freshman retention rates and why do they matter?

Scott White
Director of Guidance Montclair High School

What are freshman retention rates and why do they matter?

Retention and graduation rates are important, but should be taken in context. Public colleges always have lower rates due to their mission. They have more students who drop out for economic reasons. But among comparable schools, a higher retention and graduation rate is a good sign.

Betsy Morgan
Founder College Matters LLC

Come Back!

The retention rate is the number of students who return for their sophomore year. It can be a good indication of how happy students are, and how well the college supports students who are having trouble academically, and otherwise. Of course, grade inflation can falsely inflate this statistic. On the other hand, a college which enrolls many students who rely on financial aid and may need to take a break in order to earn additional funds may have a lower retention rate.

James Goecker
Vice President for Enrollment Management Rose Hulman Institute of Technology

It depends...

Freshman retention rates can provide a window into a number of aspects of a university or college. A low retention rate could indicate a number of issues. Perhaps the recruitment and admission process creates a poor match between student and college. It could mean an environment that is not supportive of student success. It could even mean that the institution is in financial stress and cutting instructors, classes, equipment, etc. Regardless, look deeper than a statistic. Many schools have as their mission to reach out to non-traditional students or first generation students. Given their life challenges, these students find it more difficult to pursue higher education in a traditional manner. Stopping and starting numerous times may lead to a degree, but create a statistic that is not reflective of the institution's success in fulfilling its mission.

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

Retention Rates Can Demonstrate Student Satisfaction

Last Saturday, a senior told me that he plans to ask about retention rate during his college interview. His reasoning was simple, “If people like it, they’ll go back the next year.” A college’s retention rate has long been used to quantify student satisfaction. But, what is a good retention rate? The national average freshman retention rate is 75%, about a “C” on a high school grading scale. Using the same scale, a freshman retention rate of 90% is in the “A” range. If retention rate is an important factor in your search, you have a lot of great options. Nearly 150 esteemed institutions boast an average three year retention rate over 90%. Visit collegeguidancecoach.com and check out a couple of my “Top 15” retention rate lists created using the publicly available data at IPEDS. If you’d like to view a complete copy of my Retention Rate Honor Roll (sortable spreadsheet of all colleges and universities with retention rate averages above 90%) email collegeguidancecoach@gmail.com.

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

Freshman Retention Rates

The Freshman Retention Rate is the percentage of students that return to the college/university for the Sophomore (second) year. I see a high retention rate as a sign that something is being done right - that students are satisfied, both academically and socially, and want to continue their studies in that environment. What could be more important?

Erin Avery
Certified Educational Planner Avery Educational Resources, LLC


If a college is not retaining its students, this can reflect the failure of the student OR the failure of the institution. Much attrition in the first year can communicate a culture that shakes down or "hazes" its students. The "look to your left and look to your right...next year, two of you won't be here" is not a culture to be glorified, as evidenced by the recent suicides at a Boston area university this fall. 

王文君 June Scortino
President IVY Counselors Network

it is one of the key facts for parents to consider

community colleges normally showed the lowest rates of rentention and highly selective colleges normally produced the highest retention rates. when students decided not to return for the second year, it will directly linked to graduation rate which is also the key fact for consider as part of college selection process.

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

What are freshman retention rates and why do they matter?

If you want to go to a college where the students are happy with their school, then one good signal are these retention rates. The freshman retention rate is simply the percentage of freshman that return to campus sophomore year. The rate matters because it is an indication of the student satisfaction with the school. The higher the rate, the greater success the school has had with its students.

Mollie Reznick
Associate Director The College Connection

What are freshman retention rates and why do they matter?

Freshman retention rates are, quite simply, the percentage of students who continue on to their sophomore year at the college at which they began. This figure can be useful when assessing schools because there is an undeniable correlation between this figure and the overall happiness of students on campus. If a school has a retention rate of higher than 90%, it's likely that most freshman are pleased with their experience on campus. I would probably not recommend a school to my students that had a rate lower than 75%, because it would make me wonder why so many students are leaving.

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures

Retention rates

Freshman retention rate refers to the percentage of freshmen who return for their sophomore year. If 85% of freshman of X College return for their sophomore year, that is a good sign that the students were happy academically and socially. If a college has a 50% retention rate, you need to discover why that is. 50% is not an encouraging statistic. You usually find lower retention and graduation rates in huge public universities where some students may get lost in the crowd and some students may be marginal admits. "Flagship" state universities (like UT Austin in Texas or Ohio State University in Ohio) have higher retention rates because their students are very high achieving and therefore want to continue their education.