Persistence vs. retention

Terminology has large impact on graduation rates

persistence-retention-PearsonStudent persistence. Student retention. These terms are used daily in higher education, often interchangeably. Are they really the same thing?

According to Hagedorn (2005), the National Center for Education Statistics defines “retention as an institutional measure and persistence as a student measure” (p. 6). This boils down to institutions do the retaining and students do the persisting. Clear as mud right? Throw in attrition, graduation, stop-out, and drop-out and one quickly realizes why so much effort and research exists in the world of persistence and retention.

[Read: “Why online courses have low retention rates-and how to boost them.”]

Regardless of said effort and research, confusion remains. To wit, “starting with a commonly used definition of a graduate- a former student who has completed a prescribed course of study in a college or university, it is clear that all graduates have persisted.

However, not all persisters will graduate” (Hagedorn, 2005, p. 6). If the logic square of your undergraduate years just jumped into your head bringing along with it a strange mix of nostalgia and mild anxiety, you are not alone.

(Next page: Why do persistence and retention matter?)