Freshman retention rate climbs as support systems strengthen

The freshman retention rate inched slightly higher this fall, continuing a decade-long trend of reaching a new high with each class.

The 2,241 students from the Class of 2014 who returned to the University after their first year represent 94.3 percent of the original class, a slight increase from the 94-percent return rate the Class of 2013 posted.

Improving the University’s retention rate has been a key priority for administrators. To help students stay at GW, the University has funneled more than $400 million into financial aid over the last four years.

In the past decade, the retention rate slowly rose from about 86 percent in 2001 to 91.4 percent for the Class of 2012.

Freshman retention rate is a figure often used as a measure of how well a school supports its incoming students.

Scott Jaschik, editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed, attributed the strong retention rate to programming that makes freshmen feel at home, such as advising and orientation.

The University provides an academic and social network of support to incoming students through Colonial Inauguration, Guide to Personal Success advisers and house staff.

Freshmen who transfer often leave to attend universities that are more competitive, cheaper or not in a city, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said. She added that students who receive financial aid or are involved with Greek Life are more likely to return to the University.

The typical freshman retention rate for schools like GW – highly selective, four-year, private doctoral institutions – averages at 93.9 percent, according to the American College Testing Program. This number places the University within the top 50 schools in retention rate.

Officials from U.S. News and World Report cited improving retention rates as a factor in its decision to bump GW to the No. 50 slot in this year’s national college rankings.

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