Student Retention, Persistence, and Graduation

By Tim W. Merrill, Director of Institutional Research, Randolph-Macon College 
In my continuing efforts to visually display data that are typically presented in tables, I created the simple graphs below to highlight student retention, persistence, and graduation for the 2007 entering full-time, first-year cohort. This design was originally crafted with John Stanley when we were both at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa in 2011. Those versions are online here 
I’ve come to appreciate that a basic, direct approach can often help other college administrators view and engage with important data when it’s presented in a more accessible format. While these basic numbers of first- to second-year retention and four- and six-year graduation rate numbers are rather commonly known on campus, seeing the progression of the cohort as they persist or attrit offers a different approach to become more familiar and work with the data.  
What is presented below are two graphs that track the entering Fall 2007 cohort of first-year, full-time students. In the first example, the students are simply split into enrolled (blue shading) and graduated (red shading) sections of the chart. The primary important numbers are included and placed near the line graph. The perfect retention/graduation example would have two equal boxes sitting next to each other. In the second example I’ve added in ethnicity categories, which for our campus doesn’t dramatically alter the visual display and perhaps adds too many variables, but this presentation might tell a more compelling story elsewhere.  

Student Retention, Persistence, and Graduation 2007 Entering Full-Time, First-Year Cohort  



To add a comment, Sign In
Total Comments: 6
Gail posted on 5/15/2014 12:40 PM
I think this is a very clever way of telling a very popular story. The box highlighting the major points are very helpful. What I do not get is why the numbers in red are higher than the numbers in blue at the point where they are actually smaller numbers and then why if only 239 students were retained, more than 239 graduated 5 or more years later. Does it have something to do with the 6, 15, etc numbers at the bottom of the figure?
Nina posted on 5/15/2014 1:36 PM
I love this graphic display. It's clean and minimal and yet gives a lot of information right off the top. Is it possible to get more instructions on how to create this chart / graph ( Would love to try it at my campus.
Don posted on 5/15/2014 3:07 PM
Love the boxes highlighting the most important metrics. I've done a different version of example 1, where the graduated students are added on top of the retained so you can see a cumulative look at success. I'm a little confused by the sort of aqua blue at the bottom right side of the chart.
Fred posted on 5/16/2014 6:33 PM
Great Chart. I assume that the numbers on lower left (6&6) are those graduating early, and the numbers on lower left (15/15/2/2) are those still enrolled. Since many institutions, have large populations of new transfer students, I love to see a similar display for them, but that will be more complicated.
Tim posted on 5/19/2014 12:03 PM
This is one of the most successful displays of presenting a complicated topic of graduation over a six-year period. The second example was good to look at the comparisons of data between African American and White students. This may be in the supporting material because it would clutter the display, but the size of both the African American and White cohorts over the same identified time periods would be the only additional information I would need to get a full picture of what happened to the 2007 cohort.
Amadou posted on 8/14/2014 2:40 PM
This is a great way to display this type of data. I would love to learn how to create these charts.