Thursday, November 5, 2015

Freshman Retention Rates

There's an interesting story in today's print issue of The Red & Black about UGA freshman retention rates. UGA's frosh retention rate inched higher, to 95.2 percent in the latest data. That's great news. To put this in context, it was 94.2 percent last year. But also to put it in context, it's been in the 94 percent neighborhood since, best I can tell looking back, 2005.

Here's a line from the story that gives this a hook.
The national average retention rate is 80 percent, while the six-year graduation national rate is 59 percent.
OK, but here's the deal when dealing with numbers like this. That 80 percent, it has a ceiling effect and includes lots of struggling schools with struggling students, so it's not all that impressive to compare UGA's retention rate with a national average. Instead, let's look at UGA's peers. Here we do damn well too, and it took me all of five seconds to find these data. The link should take you to page 2, which includes UGA. If you look, UF is just above us, as is Georgia Tech. Sigh, they always seem to be. Anyway, we're about where you'd expect with our peers and better than most, so good.

OK, but how about the reason why for the 1 percentage point increase? UGA's provost credits better advising and smaller classes, and there's no way to challenge that. I suspect there's no way to support that with the data either, but as it makes sense let's just let it slide.

The moral? Beware comparisons. Yes, UGA beats the national average in just about everything (except, maybe, football this year). But that's not saying a helluva lot. A better comparison is with a university's peer and aspirational institutions.


A part of the story I finally got around to checking. Yes, UGA has a record-breaking 6-year graduation rate for freshmen of 85.6 percent, but here's the part UGA doesn't mention to the R&B: the 4-year and 5-year freshman graduation rates went down compared to the previous cohort. Not by a lot, but down, a few fractions of a percentage point in both cases. Thanks to the Hope Scholarship, many of our students are on the 5-year and 6-year plan.

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