Schools Ranked by Retention RatePage 4

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
301

Georgia Southern University

21 to 150%82%60%35%67%9%
302

Greenville College

13 to 157%82%56%14%91%N/A
303

Illinois State University

18 to 173%82%88%30%50%4%
304

Ball State University

14 to 160%82%61%16%65%7%
305

Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion

15 to 160%82%95%45%57%N/A
306

Valparaiso University

13 to 167%82%82%11%91%N/A
307

Cornell College

11 to 168%82%70%14%98%4%
308

Northwestern College

13 to 167%82%72%21%94%N/A
309

Goucher College

11 to 169%82%77%11%90%3%
310

Salisbury University

16 to 167%82%61%14%56%5%
311

Madonna University

10 to 161%82%60%19%62%N/A
312

Concordia College at Moorhead

11 to 173%82%78%23%96%2%
313

Minneapolis College of Art and Design

11 to 160%82%66%26%94%9%
314

University of Northwestern-St Paul

18 to 166%82%87%33%59%N/A
315

Mississippi State University

19 to 160%82%65%28%78%8%
316

William Jewell College

10 to 162%82%49%17%94%N/A
317

Caldwell University

12 to 164%82%64%9%74%9%
318

CUNY Brooklyn College

15 to 154%82%37%7%60%7%
319

SUNY at Albany

18 to 168%82%56%12%60%N/A
320

SUNY College at Brockport

16 to 169%82%53%12%61%N/A
321

Elizabethtown College

12 to 178%82%71%15%99%3%
322

Philadelphia University

13 to 165%82%64%13%88%N/A
323

Westminster College

9 to 162%82%96%23%89%N/A
324

University of Mary Washington

14 to 170%82%83%18%41%2%
325

Old Dominion University

19 to 153%82%83%31%55%N/A
326

Western Washington University

18 to 171%82%82%28%48%N/A
327

Saint Norbert College

13 to 173%82%78%16%94%3%
328

Spring Hill College

14 to 153%81%41%6%99%8%
329

John Brown University

15 to 162%81%74%31%74%N/A
330

University of Illinois at Chicago

18 to 160%81%77%22%65%N/A
331

University of Evansville

12 to 168%81%70%12%91%5%
332

Dordt College

15 to 169%81%70%27%100%2%
333

Asbury University

11 to 163%81%57%19%77%6%
334

Lawrence Technological University

12 to 156%81%55%16%51%7%
335

Winona State University

20 to 158%81%62%24%54%N/A
336

William Carey University

13 to 154%81%57%23%85%N/A
337

Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health

12 to 173%81%34%19%72%N/A
338

The New School

10 to 165%81%67%19%83%6%
339

SUNY at Purchase College

15 to 158%81%41%10%59%7%
340

University of North Dakota

21 to 154%81%82%39%51%N/A
341

Kent State University at Kent

21 to 156%81%85%27%68%12%
342

Otterbein University

10 to 161%81%75%20%81%6%
343

Oklahoma State University-Main Campus

20 to 161%81%75%33%76%7%
344

George Fox University

14 to 170%81%77%21%90%3%
345

Roger Williams University

14 to 164%81%78%11%84%N/A
346

Presbyterian College

11 to 170%81%62%13%89%4%
347

Edgewood College

10 to 160%81%77%26%85%4%
348

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

22 to 160%81%80%36%43%N/A
349

California State University-San Marcos

24 to 151%81%54%16%69%5%
350

Columbia College

10 to 162%81%N/AN/A63%N/A
351

University of Arizona

22 to 161%80%76%23%69%7%
352

Whittier College

12 to 166%80%63%9%94%N/A
353

Florida Southern College

13 to 157%80%45%11%93%10%
354

University of North Florida

18 to 155%80%57%14%61%8%
355

Nova Southeastern University

16 to 144%80%59%15%83%N/A
356

University of Idaho

16 to 157%80%72%26%67%N/A
357

Grace College and Theological Seminary

23 to 160%80%77%9%71%4%
358

Marian University

13 to 156%80%56%15%66%6%
359

Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary

11 to 166%80%64%50%90%3%
360

University of Northern Iowa

17 to 168%80%80%36%55%N/A
361

Wartburg College

11 to 170%80%74%17%94%N/A
362

Clear Creek Baptist Bible College

12 to 146%80%N/AN/A90%N/A
363

Louisiana Tech University

23 to 152%80%64%31%72%8%
364

Stevenson University

14 to 153%80%60%13%81%N/A
365

Bay Path University

12 to 157%80%77%16%76%9%
366

Lesley University

10 to 154%80%67%12%75%4%
367

Andrews University

9 to 154%80%39%12%84%7%
368

University of Michigan-Dearborn

15 to 153%80%62%18%63%N/A
369

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

18 to 161%80%78%19%69%N/A
370

University of Nebraska at Kearney

14 to 156%80%85%37%71%N/A
371

Rider University

12 to 164%80%69%9%87%7%
372

New York School of Interior Design

10 to 150%80%42%8%29%N/A
373

SUNY College at Oswego

17 to 166%80%51%14%76%N/A
374

East Carolina University

18 to 162%80%69%25%50%N/A
375

Western Carolina University

16 to 157%80%40%9%65%N/A
376

Oral Roberts University

16 to 158%80%64%18%87%10%
377

Corban University

15 to 159%80%31%9%94%N/A
378

Moravian College

12 to 169%80%75%19%91%4%
379

Bob Jones University

12 to 162%80%82%55%71%2%
380

Sam Houston State University

21 to 149%80%73%29%69%11%
381

Regent University

28 to 149%80%84%25%84%N/A
382

Longwood University

16 to 166%80%79%22%48%5%
383

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

21 to 165%80%85%39%46%N/A
384

University of Alabama at Birmingham

18 to 155%79%60%21%58%N/A
385

Colorado Christian University

15 to 147%79%N/AN/A54%6%
386

Regis University

14 to 173%79%66%10%54%N/A
387

Elmhurst College

14 to 167%79%55%13%95%2%
388

Dominican University

11 to 159%79%63%12%90%6%
389

Huntington University

10 to 166%79%84%22%85%4%
390

Notre Dame of Maryland University

12 to 154%79%52%11%59%8%
391

Westfield State University

17 to 163%79%80%25%56%N/A
392

Central Michigan University

20 to 159%79%69%19%74%6%
393

Spring Arbor University

11 to 152%79%69%19%88%N/A
394

Augsburg College

12 to 156%79%59%16%82%5%
395

Hamline University

13 to 163%79%72%13%94%4%
396

Fontbonne University

11 to 154%79%97%36%76%10%
397

Ohio University-Main Campus

18 to 167%79%74%21%53%N/A
398

Oklahoma Christian University

13 to 149%79%59%17%96%8%
399

Arcadia University

10 to 158%79%59%6%94%6%
400

Cedar Crest College

10 to 158%79%67%16%75%8%

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