Schools Ranked by Retention RatePage 2

A college’s retention rate reflects the student body’s overall interest in the college. This figure can explain many factors that compose the attractiveness of a college, including the quality of its teaching staff, the relevance of its curriculum, and the perceived value of what is being taught. The retention rate figures are provided by the NCES database. The NCES defines retention rate as the percentage of first-time bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree-seeking undergraduates from fall 2011 who enrolled again in fall 2012.

The NCES database did not have retention rate figures for all of the colleges on our list. We did not, however, want to penalize those colleges without data. To that end, we simply excluded those schools from the rankings in this category. Read more about our ranking methodology here.

What is a College Retention Rate?

Per the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website, retention rate is the percentage of a school’s first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at that school the next year. Put more simply, though, retention rates are a good indication of how many undergraduate students start at a college and continue their education at that college.

When evaluating a school based on retention rate, it is important to note the effect transfer students have on the rate. A student who starts at a College A, then transfers to College B for sophomore year will cause a negative retention rate for the College A. Further, that student will not even be a factor into the retention rate of College B. Additionally, the numbers can be even further skewed when considering community college versus destination schools. Where many community colleges have positioned themselves as a jumping-off point for college students, so-called destination schools (think Ivy League schools) have a high retention rate because of how hard students work to get in. Both are acceptable forms of education, but where a destination school will have close to a 99% retention rate, a community college will have a much, much lower number, due mainly to their positioning as a place from which you may transfer credits to the school that you want to ultimately graduate from.

Because of all these mitigating factors, a college retention rate is just one of the many factors to weigh when choosing a university to attend.

Why do Students Drop Out of College?

Though we seldom like to think about it, there are times when students drop out of college. It’s a lot more common than you might think. According to the 2015 U.S. Census, more than 25% of people in their 30s have attended college at some point, but do not have a degree. Per a 2012 article from Reuters, the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s “Pathways to Prosperity” study shows that just 56% of college students complete a four-year degree within six years. Only 29% of associate degree seekers complete their two-year program within three years. The most frequent reasons for dropping out include not being prepared for the rigors of academic work, inability to reach an education-life balance, family issues, and financial circumstances.

The most controllable, most frequent source of stress for students is money. Lower income students and those working full time as they attend classes have a higher dropout rate. You can prepare for this by filling out a FAFSA and applying for student aid. If you plan to work while attending classes, make sure that your employer knows what your class schedule is like and that you will be unable to pick up extra hours during those times. Communication is key for mitigating both financial and family crises, so it’s a good idea to make sure all of the people in your life know what your priorities are.

Why Should You Care about College Retention Rates?

Frankly, though a college’s retention rate is just one key data point to consider, the rate itself offers a treasure trove of information for the discerning incoming freshman. Retention rates offer insight into:

  • How many incoming freshmen become sophomores: According to “The Murky Middle”. If a student will struggle, it is likely to be in their first year of college, before their life has fully integrated the demands of a college education.
  • How many students maintain interest in an educational institution after enrolling: No one leaves Harvard without a fight, but the same student may not give a second thought to leaving a local community college. As mentioned in an article on Higher Ed Live, a high retention rate can be a sign that a university’s administrative team gives careful consideration to meeting or exceeding student needs, including class size, class availability, and cost-benefit. This is also an indication of how strong a university’s brand is. The stronger the brand, the more pull it will give your resume.
  • How many scholars end up losing time and money due to transferring credits: While on the surface, transferring credits to the school of your choice may seem like a sure-fire bet, sometimes credits do not transfer. U.S. News & World Report offers some great advice on how to transfer credits, but remember: Great advice is not the same thing as a guarantee.

How are Colleges Improving Their Retention Rates?

Colleges are under increasing pressure to improve their student retention rates, and raising this rate is a huge undertaking. To be frank, it is in a college’s best interest to have a high retention rate. After all, those who stay are more likely to graduate.

In “Retention And Student Success: Implementing Strategies That Make A Difference,” some more common efforts by colleges include implementing writing centers, academic resource centers, and outreach and engagement programs. Offerings such as these help students to feel like they are a part of the university community and that they can ask for and receive help easily. Further, the article recommends that universities that are concerned about retention focus on how to roll out the behaviors of successful students to the entire student body. Whether it’s something as simple as making degree plans and requirements more clear or something more complex, like interacting more often and more meaningfully with students, colleges know that it is up to them to provide the information and engagement necessary to garner and keep student interest.

The same article offers many examples of schools making efforts toward increasing their retention rates:

  • Mercy College in New York City created the Personalized Achievement Contract program (PACT) to help students learn to navigate the college environment and its complexities. Established in 2009, PACT is credited with raising Mercy’s retention rate by 15%.
  • The University of South Carolina put more emphasis on its Student Success Center and it’s Academic Coaching and Engagement program (ACE). The university encouraged advisors from all disciplines–resident, academic, Greek life, and more–to refer students who may be at risk of dropping out early. Such efforts lowered the university’s attrition rate by 3% within one academic year.

Colleges everywhere recognize that GPA is an important indicator of whether a student is likely to continue with their education. “The Murky Middle” discusses in depth how the 2.2-3.0 GPA accounts for 45% of those who drop out in their first year. These students are doing well enough–no academic probation, but no dean’s list either. Because they are not garnering any attention, though, when they begin to struggle, they are unlikely to be aware of resources that can help them stay in school. While there are still studies being completed on this topic, it reinforces the notion that communicating early and often with advisors and faculty is key to retaining students.

RankSchoolStudent to
Faculty Ratio
Graduation
Rate
Retention
Rate
Acceptance
Rate
Enrollment
Rate
Institutional
Aid Rate
Default
Rate
101

Saint Mary's College

10 to 179%90%80%24%94%N/A
102

Maharishi University of Management

11 to 146%90%37%25%68%N/A
103

Mount Holyoke College

10 to 185%90%50%14%80%N/A
104

Saint Louis University

11 to 171%90%63%12%54%N/A
105

Creighton University

11 to 179%90%70%11%91%N/A
106

Fashion Institute of Technology

17 to 175%90%41%27%41%7%
107

Stony Brook University

17 to 168%90%41%8%57%N/A
108

Elon University

12 to 183%90%57%15%54%2%
109

Miami University-Oxford

15 to 180%90%65%14%63%11%
110

University of the Sciences

10 to 172%90%58%9%84%N/A
111

Saint Joseph's University

13 to 179%90%82%14%90%N/A
112

Temple University

14 to 171%90%56%17%72%N/A
113

Providence College

12 to 185%90%57%10%71%N/A
114

Texas A & M University-College Station

20 to 179%90%67%31%57%N/A
115

Texas Christian University

13 to 176%90%43%11%66%N/A
116

Marquette University

15 to 180%90%74%9%96%3%
117

Sessions College for Professional Design

15 to 160%90%N/AN/A53%N/A
118

Samford University

12 to 174%89%93%26%88%N/A
119

California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

27 to 163%89%39%8%67%5%
120

California State University-Long Beach

24 to 167%89%34%8%72%5%
121

San Diego State University

28 to 168%89%34%9%59%N/A
122

Fairfield University

12 to 182%89%65%9%75%1%
123

Howard University

11 to 161%89%49%11%78%10%
124

University of Central Florida

30 to 170%89%49%18%69%N/A
125

Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale

12 to 168%89%N/AN/A93%18%
126

Indiana University-Bloomington

17 to 177%89%78%23%59%5%
127

University of St Thomas

14 to 176%89%84%26%91%N/A
128

Maryville University of Saint Louis

13 to 171%89%72%26%68%N/A
129

Truman State University

16 to 173%89%79%32%80%N/A
130

Rochester Institute of Technology

13 to 168%89%57%16%82%N/A
131

St Lawrence University

11 to 187%89%46%12%93%N/A
132

SUNY College at Geneseo

20 to 182%89%73%15%55%N/A
133

State University of New York at New Paltz

15 to 173%89%42%7%53%N/A
134

Susquehanna University

12 to 171%89%76%13%98%N/A
135

University of Utah

16 to 164%89%81%28%51%N/A
136

Azusa Pacific University

11 to 168%88%81%20%92%4%
137

California State University-Fullerton

25 to 162%88%42%11%65%6%
138

University of California-Santa Cruz

18 to 178%88%50%8%74%N/A
139

American University

12 to 181%88%35%11%63%4%
140

Florida International University

25 to 158%88%50%20%69%10%
141

University of South Florida-Main Campus

24 to 168%88%45%14%72%N/A
142

Drake University

13 to 175%88%67%12%94%3%
143

Hope College

11 to 176%88%72%18%87%3%
144

Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

9 to 169%88%66%13%86%1%
145

Clarkson University

14 to 172%88%68%11%96%3%
146

Le Moyne College

13 to 168%88%62%9%90%6%
147

Niagara University

13 to 163%88%85%22%85%8%
148

SUNY College of Technology at Alfred

18 to 150%88%57%22%80%N/A
149

University at Buffalo

13 to 174%88%60%15%55%N/A
150

University of Cincinnati-Main Campus

18 to 162%88%86%29%58%N/A
151

University of Oregon

19 to 171%88%74%19%60%N/A
152

Messiah College

12 to 177%88%79%28%97%N/A
153

University of Scranton

10 to 180%88%72%9%88%N/A
154

West Chester University of Pennsylvania

19 to 171%88%59%19%43%N/A
155

University of Florida-Online

35 to 1N/A88%56%51%55%N/A
156

California Institute of the Arts

7 to 156%87%25%9%55%8%
157

Colorado State University-Fort Collins

18 to 167%87%81%26%50%4%
158

Quinnipiac University

12 to 176%87%74%8%83%N/A
159

Agnes Scott College

9 to 168%87%62%19%95%7%
160

Mercer University

13 to 161%87%67%18%85%5%
161

Illinois Institute of Technology

13 to 173%87%53%11%89%N/A
162

Taylor University

12 to 177%87%85%30%84%N/A
163

Iowa State University

19 to 171%87%87%33%67%5%
164

Capitol Technology University

12 to 135%87%97%23%71%7%
165

Berklee College of Music

11 to 156%87%29%12%53%12%
166

Michigan Technological University

12 to 165%87%75%24%86%5%
167

University of Mississippi

18 to 161%87%79%22%68%8%
168

University of Missouri-Columbia

20 to 169%87%78%28%60%N/A
169

Missouri University of Science and Technology

19 to 165%87%88%41%77%5%
170

Stockton University

17 to 173%87%64%21%56%N/A
171

SUNY Maritime College

17 to 156%87%68%25%54%8%
172

Saint Francis University

14 to 172%87%74%22%84%N/A
173

Saint Vincent College

12 to 169%87%70%23%96%4%
174

University of South Carolina-Columbia

19 to 172%87%65%20%71%N/A
175

Saint Michael's College

11 to 176%87%76%10%98%N/A
176

George Mason University

16 to 169%87%69%14%41%2%
177

Seattle Pacific University

15 to 171%87%82%13%93%3%
178

Milwaukee School of Engineering

16 to 164%87%65%22%89%5%
179

The University of Alabama

24 to 167%86%54%20%57%N/A
180

San Jose State University

27 to 157%86%55%11%64%5%
181

University of Colorado Boulder

18 to 171%86%80%20%43%4%
182

University of Denver

11 to 177%86%73%9%80%N/A
183

Catholic University of America

7 to 169%86%79%15%83%2%
184

Georgia College and State University

17 to 160%86%76%37%79%5%
185

Augustana College

12 to 176%86%49%10%97%5%
186

Bradley University

12 to 174%86%66%10%94%3%
187

Loyola University Chicago

14 to 174%86%71%10%83%5%
188

Moody Bible Institute

17 to 169%86%68%48%80%N/A
189

Saint Joseph's College of Maine

12 to 158%86%78%20%56%N/A
190

Loyola University Maryland

11 to 181%86%61%7%70%N/A
191

University of Maryland-Baltimore County

19 to 163%86%59%15%51%N/A
192

Towson University

17 to 170%86%73%25%47%N/A
193

Endicott College

14 to 171%86%73%20%77%N/A
194

University of Massachusetts-Lowell

17 to 156%86%57%15%55%N/A
195

Calvin College

13 to 174%86%74%25%95%3%
196

St Catherine University

10 to 157%86%67%14%89%N/A
197

Bryan College of Health Sciences

9 to 179%86%86%67%56%3%
198

Rowan University

18 to 167%86%71%18%43%N/A
199

Ramapo College of New Jersey

17 to 174%86%53%13%43%N/A
200

Ithaca College

11 to 176%86%67%11%88%3%

Methodology

For each college, we gathered data for nine different metrics: the number of full-time faculty per part-time faculty member; institutional financial aid, acceptance, retention, graduation, job placement, and default rates; years accredited; and undergraduate tuition. Learn more