2017 Student Attrition Report for US Colleges and Universities

Student attrition is a major financial concern for colleges and universities in the United States. The total financial impact measured across 1,295 US colleges and universities is estimated at nearly $33 billion per year, based on data submitted by institutions of higher learning to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

On average, a US college or university retains 71% of its students year over year, and loses an estimated $25.3 million per year due to student attrition. 28% of these schools lose more than $30 million per year with the maximum at $386 million per year.


Schools in the top 50 of annual tuition loss are generally larger campuses (45K students on average) with slightly above average retention rates (73% on average). Below are the top five schools with the largest annual tuition loss this year.

Top 5 US Schools with the Largest 2017 Annual Tuition Loss

1.  $386 MILLION


2. $364 MILLION


3. $309 MILLION


4. $213 MILLION


5. $210 MILLION


Curious where your school ranks on the list?


Taking a deeper dive into the results, we learn that while larger schools have slightly better retention rates than medium and small schools, their tuition rates tend to be higher. When combined with the the larger population size, the effect on annual tuition loss is magnified. Below are charts that look at the average annual tuition, retention rate and tuition loss by student population.

Average Annual Tuition by State

Tuition rates also vary widely by state. Institutions of higher learning in Vermont and Delaware charge the highest rates (over $20K per year on average) compared to New Mexico and California with the lowest average rates at nearly $5K.


Relationship between Tuition and Retention

One might expect higher tuition to correlate with lower retention rates because financial concerns are a leading reason behind student choice to leave school. However, in reality, this seems to only hold true for schools with tuition rates lower than $4,600 per year. Among schools with tuition rates higher than $4,600, generally retention is stronger at more expensive schools. This is likely a reflection of the criteria students use when first deciding which school to attend and the level of economic security or financial pressure they will face upon enrollment.


Retention Solutions for High Risk Students

Whether your institution has a strong retention percentage or not, the impact student attrition has on the financial success of the organization is likely significant. In order to reduce that impact, EdjAnalytics provides a solution – EdjGraduate – to identify the students at the highest risk of being lost after Freshman year. Edj analyzes historical data to discover factors associated with attrition risk at the individual student level and produces predictions reflecting each student’s level of risk. EdjAdvance is refreshed up to twice per year to provide updated predictions on each new class of students. Additional customizations are available such as predicting which students are the most likely to graduate within 4 years.


EdjAdvance Case Study

Bellarmine University, a private Catholic university with a student population of approximately 4,500 engaged Edj to study their Freshman population. Edj analyzed demographics, high school academic indicators and social records, financial standing (FASFA), and college academic indicators to predict which of their Freshman students were at the highest risk of attrition. Edj discovered that factors such as high school GPA, first generation status, legacy status, application type, type of high school, and religious affiliation were the most valuable variables in predicting student attrition risk for Bellarmine. Edj also provided Bellarmine with a prediction score and ranking for every Freshman to enable counselors and staff to intervene with the students at the greatest risk of leaving.

EdjAdvance Student Profile Sample


Insights into the key drivers behind attrition and which are most relevant to a given student pave the way for educators to improve retention rates and improve outcomes for students. In addition to the financial impact on the university itself, Pew research estimates that the median annual income gap between high school and college graduates is around $17,500, which amounts to nearly $1 million over a full-career.


Edj Predictions vs. Actual Results

The below table represents EdjGraduate’s predictions compared to the true outcomes for the Bellarmine freshman class. The graphic breaks out the percentage of students predicted to attrite for each quartile of risk. 8.4% of students with the lowest risk profiles were projected to leave the University compared to an actual attrition rate among those students of 5.7%. As you can see, the predictions were highly accurate, enabling Bellarmine to focus their resources on the most at risk students.


Data used for school profiling originates from datasets published by the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES).


How is tuition loss due to attrition calculated?

First the weighted average is computed using annual tuition including in-state, in-district, and out-of-state tuition rates and the percentage of students paying each type of rate. Then multiply the average annual tuition by the total number of students enrolled over a 12 month period and by the percent of students who have not returned to school year over year.

University of North Florida example:

($6,394 in-state tuition)*(0.97 percent paying in-state tuition)+($20,798 out-of-state tuition)*(0.03 percent paying out-of-state tuition) = $6,826 average annual tuition

($6,826 average annual tuition)*[1-(0.80 percent of students retained YOY)]*(19,013 total students enrolled per 12 month period) = $25,957,004 estimated annual tuition loss