Carteret Community College Title III Grant

August 20, 2009

Numbers Talk…No. 3: Retention and Persistence – Is there a connection?

Filed under: Cindy Schersching's white papers — cynthea1 @ 3:37 pm

Retention rates are the proportion of students who graduate or return to their program the following semester.  Usually, retention is calculated from Fall to Fall, but Fall to Spring  metrics can be generated.   Retention is a key metric used to compare college performance throughout the US.

Persistence refers to the proportion of students who complete a course.

Typically, retention rates are reported for programs; persistence is reported for courses.

While it makes intuitive sense that persistence would be related to retention, this is challenging to prove.

Therefore, in the true spirit of blogging, I’d like to entertain all ideas regarding the hypothesis that these measures are related.

  • If you don’t think they are related, let me hear why.
  • If you think retention and persistence are related, let me know that and how strong you think the relationship is (i.e., if you know one measure, you know the other; persistence explains only part of retention-other factors are more important, etc.)
  • And if you think there is a relationship, how can we show it?

Why would a connection between retention and persistence be useful to demonstrate?

When we know which relationships have the most influence on retention, we are more likely to influence it and therefore, improve retention rates.  Conceptually, persistence is similar to retention in that the student completes something.

Further, persistence may be easier to influence than retention since it is measured at the course level.

Both are important metrics.   If retention and persistence are positively related (i.e., as one improves, so does the other), efforts to influence one metric will positively impact the other.  This will enhance our understanding of both program and course level performance using the tools already in place and give us confidence that we are using our resources in the best way.

Submitted by Cindy Schersching, PhD, August 20, 2009



  1. I certainly believe retention and persistence are related based on my 25+ years of teaching at the Community College level. Persistence is a gauge of the student’s ability to establish personal goals for his/her self. With that said, there are a variety of challenges (obstacles) that can get in the way of a student achieving those goals whether it be finishing one class or an entire program of study. Many students have the ability (skill sets & fortitude) to overcome and work through the challenges that come their way. Other students get blindsided (distracted) by these various issues such as family problems, divorce, job loss, sickness and financial problems to name a few and have to drop out of the course they are taking and/or the program. The connection I see here is in the students ability and desire to establish and accomplish personal school/career related goals. This is more complex than we may think because there is no one reason WHY students drop out of classes or programs. The program may be a bad fit for the student. They may not have been counseled appropriately or were not aware or prepared for the rigors of the course. Faculty and staff can only do so much when it comes to being positive factors in persistence and retention. We must be aware (and accept) that there are factors out of our control like a student in the military who gets deployed. He/she may want desperately to finish a program and achieve a personal goal, but an outside factor that no one could control kept that from happening. We (staff/faculty) must do a better job at the things we can control, if we do that I believe persistence and retention rates will increase. Part of the issue is appropriate training for staff and faculty, however there are some things that can’t be taught like empathy for a student’s personal situation. Community building is an important variable to all this as well. If the student feels as if he/she is a part of a caring community within a program of student odds are he/she will make more of an effort to navigate the hurdles (challenges) that get in the ways as he/she moves forward with their education. Ok…these are my thoughts for what they are worth. I’ll chime in later as others respond to your questions.

    Comment by keoughp — August 21, 2009 @ 9:11 am | Reply

  2. I agree with Patrick Keough’s points, especially concerning community building. He is correct in stating that this is one area we can influence positively and say YES to, as Dr. Youngblood has advised. Community building and engaging our students in what they care about is why the SGA and the student clubs and activites on campus need the support of faculty and staff.

    Comment by Penny Hooper — August 21, 2009 @ 10:10 am | Reply

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