What is Student Retention? - Definition & Effects

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 1:00 Reasons for Retention
  • 1:50 Positive Effects of…
  • 3:02 Negative Effects of Retention
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Monica Gragg

Monica has taught college-level courses in Tourism, HR and Adult Education. She has a Master's in Education and is three years into a PhD.

We take a look at the importance of student retention in higher education and K-12. We also examine the reasons for student retention and the positive and negative impacts.


Student retention is a hot topic because every stakeholder, from parents to policymakers, looks at student retention to measure a school's performance. Think about student retention as student success or successful completion. For example, a 2014 study showed that parents in Chicago wanted to send their teenagers to charter schools because they graduated 7-11% more students than public schools. In simple terms, the student retention rate was high because students dropped out or withdrew at a lower rate. Student retention is also important for universities. Potential students will want to attend a college that has a high number of students graduating because it illustrates student success and perhaps strong academic support.

Keep in mind that student retention and grade retention are not the same. Grade retention is when students repeat a grade. Student retention is a process of ensuring student success or graduation. Look at student retention as the overall picture.

Reasons for Retention

Student retention is not all up to the school. It's a combination of retention strategies, personal issues, and circumstantial factors. Here is a breakdown.

Examples of retention strategies are:

  • Procedures to identify at-risk students early on
  • Early intervention for at-risk students
  • Having a student-centered culture
  • Having a high quality teaching staff, curriculum, academic support
  • Having retention programs

Some things can negatively affect retention regardless of the quality or actions of the school. Personal factors, like low self-confidence, poor attitude toward education, poor study behaviors or problem-solving abilities is just a few examples.

On a grander scale, circumstantial factors like ethnicity, socio-economic status, finances, and family issues can also reap their effects.

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