As defined by the Department of Education, retention rates measure the number of first-time students enrolled in a school who remain at the school the following year. The data is indicative of a school's ability to engage students at the onset of their college education and keep them from dropping out.
[See measures some online schools are taking to retain students.]
The largest online schools vary wildly in their ability to retain students, though the averages among the largest 10 online institutions are below the national averages for all schools—traditional and online—among both full-time and part-time students.
[Learn more about online education.]
If you're considering pursuing an online degree, it's important to take a number of metrics into account when making your decision. Among others, you should examine loan default rates, loan repayment rates, and the retention rates below (data from Fall 2009—sorted by retention rates for first-time full-time students. First-time students tend to make up a small portion of an online university's total student population--less than 1 percent in some cases):
|Large Online-Oriented Schools||Retention Rate Among First-Time Full-Time Students||Retention Rate Among First-Time Part-Time Students|
|American Public University System||92%||53%|
|University of Maryland--University College||42%||31%|
|Ashford University||41%||Not available|
|Grand Canyon University||39%||27%|
|University of Phoenix||38%||Not available|
|National Average (2008)||77%||46%|
Source: Department of Education
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