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Data Show Two-year Colleges Improve Retention Rate

Retaining freshmen is one of the keys to boosting college completion rates. According to new data from ACT Inc., public two-year colleges are improving on this front, while four-year private colleges are slipping.

Here are highlights of data gathered in ACT's annual survey, released Thursday, of more than 2,500 two-year and baccalaureate colleges and universities across the country:

•Overall, about 67 percent of first-year, full-time students return to the same institution for their second year of college. Last year it was 66 percent; in 2005, the retention rate was 68 percent.

•At two-year public colleges, about 56 percent of students returned to school after their freshman year, up from 54 percent last year and 53 percent in 2005. This is the highest retention rate at two-year colleges in the 27 years of research by ACT.

•At four-year private colleges, the retention rate is 72 percent, down from 73 percent last year and 75 percent in 2005.

•At four-year public colleges, about 74 percent of freshman returned, compared to 73 percent last year and 73 percent in 2005.

Why the change?

It's the economy at play, said Wes Habley, ACT's principal associate, who has been conducting analyses of retention data for the not-for-profit organization since 1985. Community colleges are less expensive than four-year school. Two-year programs also offer career programs that are responsive to the marketplace—which is appealing in this down economy.

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