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Underused Statistics: Graduation and Freshman Retention Rates

Last week I talked a little bit about how I thought average class size was an overvalued statistic. But this week I’d like to talk a little bit about two underused statistics: graduation rate and freshman retention rate.

Like most students, when I was choosing a college the last thing I cared to think about was either the first-year retention rate or the graduation rate. I knew where I wanted to go and I knew that I would be happy there. However, after matriculating, I began to see how these numbers can reflect a school.

To some degree these numbers correlate to the quality of the school. But even among seemingly similar schools, they can vary by us much as 10%. The trouble, however, is understanding what they mean.

At some schools it is a reflection of the difficulty of the academics. For example, Reed College has a retention and graduation rate lower than other schools in its echelon. However, it also has notoriously strenous academics. While this is certainly not the sole reason students leave, it seems safe to say many leave because the difficult academics are not what they want.

At other schools it can reflect the student culture. Schools with more nontraditional students often see students leave for a variety of reasons. They may decide college is not for them, their motivation may push them towards other ventures, or they may take several years off. While this can help explain relatively low rates, make sure that you ask yourself how this might reflect the student body you will be around for four years.

Most worryingly, it can reflect dissatisfaction with the school. If a school has traditional academics and a more traditional student body, but it has a retention and graduation rate below its sister schools, that can be a cause for concern. Call up people you know who go to the school or ask on a campus visit if people know students that have dropped out or transferred. Press them to see if they know the circumstances. Certainly many students will have left for personal reasons, but often times their dissatisfaction can be illuminating.

Remember, the students that left the school probably came in just as excited as you will be. Finding out why they left is just as important as knowing why everyone else stayed.

This post is titled, “Underused Statistics: Graduation and Freshman Retention Rates.” It was written by Jon B., a writer on Top Test Prep’s team.

To learn more about Top Test Prep’s programs, call (800) 501 – Prep or visit TopTestPrep.com.

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