Why College Retention and Graduation Rates Matter

When evaluating the college(s) you may one day attend, it is important to look at the school’s retention and graduation rate. This is good practice for a variety of reasons:

  1. You want to know that the school you are attending fosters an environment for helping students succeed. The retention rate of the school shows this commitment. It shows that they have programs in place such as academic advisors, skills-based tutoring, remediation support, academic aids, physical and mental health program, etc. that equip the students for success.

  2. College is expensive and a low retention and/or graduation rate could mean that the school is just too expensive or too difficult for many students to continue learning there. You don’t want to begin a program that you might not be able to finish because you will not only have a financial investment in the program, you will have also spent time that you will never recover. Some classes may also not transfer to another program, so it’s a good idea that have a plan for finishing any program you start.

  3. Some schools are diploma factories. You do not want to attend a school with too high of a graduation rate because that could impede acceptance into your graduate school of choose. We often hear stories of students that had to go to Plan B or even Plan C for graduate school because they didn’t plan ahead and follow the needed path to get into their intended graduate school.

  4. Retention rates also mean that campus life is good. Schools that have strong retention rates don’t just help students succeed academically. They also foster activities and environments that make students want to be there. They create clubs, intermural sports, athletic and cultural events that have a broad appeal to the student body.

  5. Retention and graduation rates also mean that schools communicate the graduation requirements well. They have documents that list the courses you must take to graduate.

  6. Schools that want students to succeed look at data. They know which classes and majors students are having trouble in, and they discover why. They evaluate students. They observe teachers. They observe trends.

  7. The financial aid office at schools that have strong retention and graduation rates tend to be more willing to work with students. If a student has a financial issue where they cannot afford school, the financial office looks for solutions with them.

  8. They have programs for special student populations such as first generation college students, students on academic probation, etc.

While the information reported on college retention and graduation rates are helpful, keep in mind that some information may have flaws. Some schools and universities have policies for withholding information by allowing some information to be exempt from their calculations. When doing your research, don’t just look at university websites. Ask students that attend these schools what they’ve noticed about the success rates of students in your intended major. Many times, students switch majors and still graduate. If you’re wanting to go into Industrial Engineering, it’s good to know that many students at school X that major in industrial engineering switch majors after their sophomore year.


Upward Bound is funded by the U.S. Department of Education & sponsored by Douglas-Cherokee Economic Authority Inc.