When the Journey is as Important as the Destination: Time-Averaged Retention as an Alternate Measure of Student Engagement and Program Impact
University retention and completion rates underestimate true levels of student participation because of their reliance on measurements taken at commencement (or census date) and end of a program. As a result, these statistical snapshots miss what happens in between, failing to capture the true reach of the teaching and learning process, as well as the effort and resources involved. This is problematic when these numbers drive debate over higher education policy or institutional decisions over resource allocation. Here we propose a way of turning retention statistics into a more meaningful measurement of student participation, that we term engagement. In the context of this article, engagement is a calculated quantity based on the time-averaged student retention of a program or course. We argue that it addresses the shortcomings of snapshot metrics and provides some much-needed insight into student participation. We motivate its adoption and illustrate its use with worked examples, as a guide to practitioners, researchers and policymakers in the field.