Doing it Twice, Getting in Right? The Effects of Grade Retention and Course Repetition in Higher Education

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Many students who enter college are insufficiently prepared to follow a demanding college-level curriculum. Thus, higher education institutions often require low-performing students to repeat failed courses, a full term, or even a full year. This paper is the first to investigate the effects of such a “(grade) retention” policy on student performance in higher education. We study a setting where first-year undergraduates who fall short of a pre-defined performance requirement have to repeat all first-year courses before they can proceed to the second year. To determine the causal effect of retention and repetition on student performance, we apply a sharp regression discontinuity design to administrative data from a Swiss university. Based on a sample of 5000 students, we find that grade retention increases dropout probabilities after the first year by about 10 percentage points. Repetition of a full year persistently boosts grade point averages by about 0.5 standard deviations, but does not affect study pace and major choices.


External organisations
  • University of Southern California
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economics


  • Grade retention, Course repetition, Higher education, Dropout, Academic achievement, Regression discontinuity, I21, I23, J24
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-219
JournalEconomics of Education Review
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes