Student retention rates are an important gauge of any educational institution's success. The student retention rate indicates the percentage of students who remain at an educational institution after they begin studying there. High schools, colleges and graduate institutes throughout the country care about improving their retention rates. A high retention rate suggests a school is supportive and enjoyable and that the workload is manageable. Especially at the college and graduate level, retention rates play an important role in attracting high quality students. Schools follow a few simple steps to calculate student retention rate.

Collect data at the beginning of the year on the number of students who enroll at a school for that academic year. For example, if 100 students sign up for a particular school at the beginning of academic year 2009, the number of students in the incoming class of 2009 is 100.

Collect data the following year on the number of students from your sample in Step 1 who are still enrolled at the school. For example, if in Step 1 you noted the number of students enrolled from the incoming class of 2009 during academic year 2009, Step 2 requires you to note the number of students from the incoming class of 2009 class who are still enrolled during academic year 2010.

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Divide the number calculated in Step 2 by the number of Step 1. For example, 90 (Step 2) รท 100 (Step 1) = 0.9 or 90 percent. The result of this calculation is the student retention rate. Ninety percent of students of the incoming class of 2009 remained at the school after one year.


  • Most schools teach more than one incoming class of students. Students progress through three or four years of study at the same institution. Therefore, many schools report yearly averages for student retention rates. The same mathematical method is used. The only difference is that the school gathers data at the beginning of every successive academic year for each incoming class. For example, a school will keep data on the number of students who began studying in 2011 who are still enrolled at the school during 2012, 2013 and 2014. Schools often keep student retention information for every incoming class spanning many decades. These different rates are averaged to create a more representative and accurate student retention rate for the school throughout the school's history. This longitudinal data allows schools to see if their retention rates are increasing or decreasing.

Things Needed

  • Data on the number of students who have begun the program or school
  • Data on the number of students who remain enrolled in the program or school
  • Calculator

About the Author

John Calhoun has been a freelance writer since 2007. He has written for ABC Investigative News, the Fulbright Foundation for Scholarly Exchange, "Richmond Times-Dispatch" and other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from the University of Richmond and is completing two graduate degrees in public policy at the University of York and the University of Oxford as a U.S. Marshall Scholar.