Tertiary student retention rates

Why This Is Important

The retention rate is important as people who wish to find employment generally need to have a tertiary education and/or hold a certain type or level of qualification.  The retention rate is also an indicator of the quality of the tertiary education system and the extent to which it is meeting students' needs.  There are many factors outside of the tertiary education system that also impact on whether a student continues in study until they complete a qualification.  Low levels of unemployment increase the opportunity cost of tertiary education study in terms of earnings foregone.  The availability of financial support while studying also influences decisions of whether or not to continue studying.

There are also many social factors that impinge on people's decisions to continue their studies such as family commitments.  It is important to observe changes in the rate at which students are retained in study so that interventions can be put in place when the rates become lower than what would be expected under certain economic and social conditions.  By tracking the retention rates for groups of students by ethnic group or qualification level, or type of provider, steps to improve the rate of retention can be taken when considered necessary.  The targeting of groups at greater risk of stopping study can help increase their retention in tertiary education.  This ensures the benefits associated with completing a tertiary qualification are available to a greater proportion of those who start study.


Tertiary student retention is measured as follows:


Number of students who started a qualification in a particular year and who are still enrolled (at the qualification level at which they started or a higher-level qualification) or who successfully completed a qualification.


Total number of students who commenced a qualification in a particular year.

(Source: Ministry of Education: Tertiary Student Enrolment and Completion Dataset.)

Interpretation Issues

This cohort-based measure of retention looks at the people who start a qualification in a particular year and traces their progress over the succeeding years.  The retention rate may be measured any number of years after a group of students has started study.

Note that retention rates are likely to change for students who started study in recent years.  This is because students who take a short break from their studies are initially counted as having stopped study.  Subsequently, the retention rates change when students return to study within five years after taking a break.

Students who identify with more than one ethnic group have been counted in each group.

Tertiary data may be revised or updated back to 2003.  This may result in differences in numbers (and rates) for some tertiary measures between what was shown in the previous version of this indicator and what appears currently.

You can find more information on how the Ministry of Education calculates retention, completion and progression rates.


Indicator Pages


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