Caveats About Use of Attrition Data

Although the workshop specifically focused on ways to enhance retention of students and to raise completion rates, a recurring theme was the strength of the existing higher education system. One of those strengths is its flexibility in allowing students to leave and then come back, or to transfer from one place to another. The trade-off, one participant noted, is some inefficiency. In this way, however, the system allows the students to realize the potential they have.

In a similar vein, the keynote speaker said that some promising students who do not finish the doctorate may be leaving for productive careers in new industries, such as biotechnology and computers. These sectors thus benefit from the advanced training that the students have received.

Finally, others warned against the use of attrition as the only measure of efficiency or productivity for universities. Higher rates of attrition may not necessarily reflect poor institutional performance but rather student responses to information about job markets in academia compared to opportunities elsewhere. Rather than emphasizing any one measure, educators need to look at multiple measures and how they interact.

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