About Me

Find out more about me here.

11 November 2011

The Problem with Retention Rates

The problem with retention rates in higher ed. as stand-alone measures is that they don't really tell us much. In order to make sense of them we need to begin by answering two other questions.

First, what kind of students apply to our school? This includes those students who are actively recruited as well as those who apply because of the reputation of our institution. Are most of our applicants strong students? What are their GPA's and standardized test scores? This matters because, all else equal, stronger students are more likely to succeed.

Second, how many of those students do we accept? Do we selectively skim off the cream or do we take all comers? This matters because, again all else equal, we are selecting the population that we will be evaluating.

You can see from the following table that we have four possible institution types. (Green = a beneficial outcome; red =  an undesirable outcome.) Schools that have high achieving students and selective admissions include elite colleges (e.g. the Ivy League). Schools that have high achieving students but less selective admissions include state and regional colleges who are charged with offering education to a wide population. Schools that have lower achieving students and less selective admissions include community, junior, and technical colleges. Schools with lower achieving students but selective admissions, if they exist, shouldn't.

Only by first answering the two questions above does it make sense to start thinking about retention rates. We can see that high retention rates are not always desirable. (Again, green = a beneficial outcome; red =  an undesirable outcome.) For example, below, we see that there is reason for a high achieving/selective (i.e. elite) college to have a low retention rate. Those schools should be tough, and not everyone should succeed there. This adds to their prestige and furthers their mission. The same cannot be said about less selective colleges, though. If it is your charge to offer education to a wide population, it is also your charge to do well by that population.

I think this is an illuminating exercise. If your school is at all like the one where I work, there is a lot going on with assessment, and there is always a concern about marketing. Rarely, if ever, do administrators consider that high retention rates might not always be the best outcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment