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ERIC Number: ED536120
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Sep
Pages: 16
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
Measuring (and Managing) the Invisible Costs of Postsecondary Attrition. Policy Brief
Wellman, Jane; Johnson, Nate; Steele, Patricia
Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research
The collision between funding realities and the paramount goal of increasing educational attainment has brought new attention to ways to reduce postsecondary attrition and get more students who enroll in college to complete a degree or credential. Reductions in attrition are both educationally effective and cost effective. Students reach high-value learning outcomes at less cost in time and money, while degree production costs are lowered. Despite a good deal of attention to retention and graduation, there is neither a commonly understood measure of student attrition, nor a way to determine its cost. Attrition is not just the difference between graduation rates and 100 percent because graduation rates do not distinguish between students who leave higher education altogether versus those that stop or transfer between institutions en route to a degree. Moreover, historically, the institutional costs of attrition have been virtually invisible, particularly in large public institutions with high levels of student enrollment demand and funding models that generate revenues for credits whether or not they attach to degrees. Students who leave early are replaced by others knocking at the door. While many institutions and states have undertaken efforts to improve graduation rates, they typically do not zero in on the relationship between spending and student success, and on ways that reducing attrition costs can also reduce degree production costs by translating a higher proportion of credits into degrees. An understanding of the different types and costs of attrition can equip institutional leaders and policymakers with the tools to make strategic choices about where, when, and how to invest time and attention towards increased graduation rates and lower production costs. This project has been designed to generate such metrics and produce recommendations on ways to use these measures to increase student success. The elements of this analysis include the following: (1) A recommended definition of attrition, as well as a methodology for estimating attrition and ascribing costs to it; (2) An example of the application of the methodology using national data samples, including findings about the patterns and costs of attrition; and (3) Recommendations to institutions and states about ways to use the measures to support efforts to reduce attrition, including setting benchmarks and goals, and rewarding progress as part of performance-or outcomes-based budgeting. (Contains 3 tables, 3 figures, and 5 footnotes.) ["Measuring (and Managing) the Invisible Costs of Postsecondary Attrition. Policy Brief" was Commissioned by the Delta Cost Project.]
Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research. 1000 Thomas Jefferson Street NW, Washington, DC 20007. Tel: 202-403-5410; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Information Analyses; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Authoring Institution: American Institutes for Research