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National Data

According to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), the first-year college retention rate in in 2010 was 77.1 percent for full-time students and 44.6 percent for part-time students.

NCHMES also breaks down the three-year graduation rate of Associate degree students by state, since 1997 through 2009.

On the NCHMES website you can also review their longitudinal state by state data and track completion along the student pipeline, meaning the transition and completion rates from 9th Grade to college.

Data Source

NCHEMS calculates first-year college retention rates annually. This is the only data available at the state level.


There is very little state or local data on how well high school graduates succeed in college and the workplace. One of the few measures is the percent of students who enter college as freshmen and enroll again sophomore year. While this measure is a proxy—it does not directly measure the academic success of high school graduates—it does provide a glimpse into how well high school students are being prepared for college.

How to Use the Data

The data is a helpful measure of how well high school students are prepared for college. Many students drop out because they lack the necessary academic skills for college success. Additionally, students who complete their first year of college and return for a second year are more likely to eventually graduate from college.

How the details were measured

The retention rate is reported as the percent of first-time, college freshmen who return for their sophomore year. NCHEMS breaks down the data by type of university and by full-time and part-time students.

Limitations of the data

The measure does not account for the fact that some students drop out of college for non-academic reasons (e.g., finances), regardless of their high school preparedness. It also does not account for students who transfer to another college.

Key Questions to Ask

Are there other measures of the success of high school graduates?

While there are other measures of how well high schools prepare students—the number of students enrolled in remedial courses, college GPA, survey data—no data are widely available at the state or local level; however, these data are key to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a high school. You should push to have your state and district collect them.

Do students graduate from college?

While first-year, college retention rates are a helpful indicator of how well high schools prepare students for college, they do not tell us whether or not students eventually graduate from college with a two- or four-year degree. States and districts should be sure to track that data in order to judge the effectiveness of their education system and the success of their alumni.

Learn More

While there is little state or local data on how well high school students are prepared for college and the workplace, there has been some disturbing national research. One NCES study, The Condition of Education, found that more than a quarter of all college freshmen were enrolled in remedial classes. A recent survey of employers by the Conference Board found that over forty percent of businesses felt that incoming high school graduates did not have the basic math and reading skills to succeed at work.

Over the past few years, some states like Florida and Texas have been building data warehouses that make it possible to examine how well high school graduates perform in college. Using a unique student identifier, the systems track students from kindergarten through college, allowing educators to study how high school courses, grades, and test scores effect students’ post-secondary success. According to the Data Quality Campaign, 35 states now have started implementing such data systems or already have the ability to match student records between the pre-kindergarten through grade twelve and into higher education systems. Kevin Carey of the Education Sector recently studied the kindergarten through grade sixteen data system in Oklahoma and provided a detailed write up.

Retention rates are typically calculated for first-year college students returning for their second year, but they can be also calculated for rising sophomores and juniors. (Note that retention rates are different than graduation rates, which measure how many students receive a diploma.) Although other organizations like ACT Inc. collect data on state and national college retention rates, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data is widely regarded as the most reliable because it surveys the entire universe of American universities as opposed to just a sample of colleges. IPEDS is the primary data collection program for postsecondary institutions administered by the federal government through NCES.