Some employment training programs focus on calculating the average length of stay as the indicator of retention. YouthBuild has put primary emphasis on the percentage of students who complete the entire program after having completed orientation, including Mental Toughness. However, completion can also include those who are deliberately placed during the program in an appropriate job, college, or residential treatment program. If a student completes a prison term for a crime committed prior to YouthBuild and returns to complete YouthBuild afterward, he or she is included.

A student is counted as enrolled after one month, including the orientation and Mental Toughness, regardless of the length of orientation. This practice was adopted from other employment training systems in order to make YouthBuild comparable to them. Using this approach, the current standards are as follows:

  • Excellent 82-100 percent of enrollees remain for the entire program cycle
    or are appropriately placed during the program cycle
    Very good 71-81 percent
    Satisfactory 63-70 percent
    Needing attention 50-62 percent
    Unacceptable Below 50 percent

Retention levels are influenced by the particular population recruited. This will be taken into account in interpreting the outcomes.

If the average attendance level falls below 80 percent, then high retention levels have relatively less significance. Retention and attendance levels are assessed together. The program review will report both retention of all students and retention of students with at least an 80 percent attendance record.

At one time YouthBuild USA only counted individual students as having been "retained" if his or her own attendance averaged at least 80 percent; but this turned out to be too rigid a standard. In some cases retaining a student in the program is an enormous achievement even with lower attendance. However, the average attendance, retention, and placement rates are expected to interact positively so that there is not a pattern of retaining numerous students on the roll books who are actually not present or not placed. Therefore, for the purposes of passing to full or accredited status, a program may not have below a "satisfactory" level of retention for the cycle being considered.

Considering these factors together, satisfactory outcomes show that more than half of the students enrolled complete the program and are appropriately placed.