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What is a Retention Rate?

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There are two critical statistics parents and teens should ponder when considering prospective colleges: retention rates and graduation rates. These are markers of how happy students are, how well-supported they feel in their academic pursuits and private lives - and how likely it is that your $30,000-$50,000 a year will lead to graduation.

Although some schools use the term "retention rate," when talking about faculty stability, the term usually refers to students: the number of full-time students who return the following year. Typically, it represents the percentage of freshmen who return for sophomore year.

Once upon a time, some large public universities actually saw low retention as a good thing - a mark of how challenging they were academically. They greeted freshmen at orientation with such bone-chilling pronouncements as, "Look at the people sitting on either side of you. Only one of you will still be here on graduation day." That attitude no longer flies. Today, many universities pride themselves on extraordinarily high retention rates - Harvard's, for example, was 97% from 2007 to 2008, and Yale's 99%. according to federal statistics. But the U.S. average for all colleges, community and four-year, is a measly 65.7%.

Find retention rates for any U.S. university or college by using the federal government's College Navigator.

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