Tracking student retention rates: ‘Dropouts’ vs. ‘Stopouts’

Nov 30, 2017

Student retention for colleges is important for both finances and student success. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says Erie Community College is working to increase retention rates.

ECC's downtown building.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"I think retention is key,” remarked Dan Hocoy, president of ECC.

When Hocoy arrived as ECC's new leader this past summer, he told the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority  (August 2027) the “easiest way to increase tuition revenue is through retention.”

Hocoy explained retention numbers don't always reflect reality.

"Students that transfer out are counted as failures.  Students that do one course in pharm-tech get picked up by Walgreens, Rite Aid and pharmacies because that's all they need and so they don’t complete their pharm-tech degree and they get plucked away,” Hocoy explained

Those students are counted as "dropouts," but Hocoy noted they are "happily employed” once they’ve completed this pharmaceutical course.

“They’re working for $18 an hour based on passing one Intro to Pharmacy course and so that’s not reflected in the numbers – it’s just shown that those are dropouts,” Hocoy said.

Students in ECC's North campus library in Amherst.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

President of ECC's Faculty Federation Andrew Sako said it is important to differentiate between dropouts and stopouts.

“What happens is we have individuals who might take a course or two and they get wholly employed, but they don’t finish their program and they needed to get financial aid, so they enroll in a program, so that looks like a ‘failure’ to many people. The drop outs are people that just stop coming to school – so honestly the way we mind our data sometimes is problematic. We’re doing a good job and sometimes it’s not acknowledged,” Sako responded.  

Inside ECC's downtown campus a banner hangs about student success.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

ECC is working with SUNY to create more accurate results on the retention numbers.

“Tracking students better after they leave because we want to see where they end up and we also want to see if they come back, so for instance, some that go to Buff State reverse transfer because they don’t have the support system – the wrap-around support systems - that we do. We’ve been in the business of open access for high school students from the beginning, so we are used to high school students coming in sometimes with grade 3 reading levels, grade 2 math, and having to remediate in a short period of time to make them college ready,” noted Hocoy.