There’s a piece of accepted wisdom that says 50% of attrition takes place in year 1 to year 2, with the other 50% taking place from year 2 to year 7. 

While that is true for a few schools, the broader reality is quite different.

Some schools see the bulk of their losses in the first-year to second-year transition while others manage the first year reasonably well, but then go on to major losses in upper years. Other schools will just slowly bleed students, a little every year that over time can generate some major losses. 

The most recent stats published in the Maclean’s 2021 Canadian Universities Guidebook show that some schools graduate as many as 9 out of every 10 students admitted, while others only manage to graduate 1 out of every 2 admitted students.

That’s a heck of a gap.

Looking at timing and rates, we can identify a kind of ecology to how schools lose students:

Slow & Steady

Schools that lose only a small proportion of students continuously each step of the way.

Start Tight then Loosen Up

Schools that lose very few in the first to second year transition but then lose 3 or 4 times as many students in the following years.

Start Loose then Tighten Up

Schools that suffer big losses at the year 1 to year 2 transition then very low losses as they manage to do a great job holding onto those who are left.

Can’t Shut the Tap

Schools that lose students in great numbers continuously and more or less evenly.


Each situation calls for a tailored retention strategy. 

But one thing is true in every case: the ability to identify at-risk students before they begin their studies is a catalyst for improving retention and graduation rates.

That’s where CRi’s HeadStart Proactive Retention System comes in — predicting who is at risk before they start so that meaningful interventions can take place right from day 1. 

It’s no longer a case of waiting for midterms, consolidated attendance reports or for professors to identify students who appear to be in need of help. All these things are useful in their own right — but they can be too late for students that are most at risk.

Why do we say that? Because on average, 15 out of every 100 students that start PSE don’t get to year 2. How did we ever come to accept that statistic as normal?

These at-risk students are not losers. For the most part, they are still finding their way and need someone to walk with them a distance while they navigate their path.

That’s why a data-driven proactive approach works. It’s how we’ve consistently helped Canadian higher education institutions improve student retention rates.

Curious how it works? Read more details here or reach out to CRi directly with any questions.