Persistence vs Retention Rate

I was reading an article on InsideHigherEd.com about a university struggling with their retention rates.  The end of the article mentioned that their persistence rates were up from last semester. This caught my attention as I don’t often read about Higher Ed professionals referring to persistence rates.  So, I decided to do more research and came up with the following.

Persistence Rate:  a measure of how many students return from the fall semester to the spring semester. This includes first years, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Now compare this to the typical definition of retention rate which I come across often when reading articles published by Higher Ed professionals.

Retention Rate:  a measure of how many freshmen continue their studies into their sophomore year.

Are these two stats stating the same facts in a different way or do they measure something entirely different?

The Persistence Rate measures the overall student body; instead of retention which , as reported in IPEDS, only measures first year students converted to second year students. In my opinion the persistence rate is a more accurate statistic that predicts if the student body will go on to graduate.  Retention and graduation rates do not capture the full student experience across the institution. The Persistence Rate is also cohesive with the ‘recruitment never ends’  philosophy – in which persistence measures the conversion rate semester to semester for all years.  (Read more on recruitment never ends philosophy in The Higher Ed Student Lifecycle Communication Continuum).

It’s obvious that I have picked a side, and if the persistence rate is a more accurate statistic of the student body then why does the Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) neglect to gather this data?  IPEDS started to gather retention rates in 2007 however a persistence rate does not even seem to be on their radar, yet.

To all the Higher Ed recruiters out there – what statistics do you and your superiors care about? Which ones do University rankings like the Shanghai rankings consider?

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