The economy and college retention

ACT News has issued a nationwide retention report.  While the retention of first-year, full time students who return for their second year of college remains stable at 67%, there is mixed news when you drill deeper down.

College Retention Rates Improving at Two-Year Schools, Declining at Four-Year Schools
The percentage of students at two-year colleges who returned to the same institution for their second year of school has been trending up, from 53 percent in 2005 to a record high of 56 percent currently. The retention rate at four-year private colleges, in contrast, has been trending down, from 75 percent in 2005 to 72 percent currently.

The reasons for this shift may be related to problems in the economy, according to Wes Habley, ACT’s principal associate, who has been conducting analyses of retention data for the not-for-profit organization since 1985.

“With many jobs gone and fewer new jobs available, high school graduates and newly unemployed workers may be seeking the fastest, least expensive route to gainful employment,” said Habley. “Two-year colleges tend to be less costly than four-year schools and offer programs that provide entry into specific jobs. Those factors may increase students’ motivation and incentive to come back for their second year.”Two-year public colleges, according to Habley, also tend to be more responsive to the marketplace than four-year institutions.

“Community colleges are typically more driven by local economic factors and employment needs than are four-year colleges and universities,” he said. “As a result, students can often see a more direct link from the program to a job.”

The decline in retention at four-year private colleges was also evident in another finding of the research. This year, retention rates at four-year private colleges (72 percent) fell behind those at four-year public colleges (74 percent) for the first time ever. This outcome may also be related to the economy, suggested Habley.

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