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Home » About the Clearinghouse » Media Center » 75% of Fall 2020 Freshman Class Returned to College by Fall 2021

1.1 Percentage Point Improvement Trends Toward Pre-Pandemic Level

HERNDON, VA – (June 28, 2022) – Of the 2.3 million students who entered college for the first time in fall 2020, 75% persisted at any U.S. institution by fall 2021, according to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. This is a 1.1-percentage-point improvement over the previous cohort, moving closer to the pre-pandemic level of 75.9%.

Notably, the overall persistence rate improved as first-time students declined sharply, -9.9% or 255,000 fewer students compared with fall 2019. Community colleges accounted for 58% of the decline in the fall 2020 starters or 146,700 fewer students.

“This year’s persistence rate increase is because of the growth of first-time students transferring out in their first year rather than the increase of those remaining at their starting institution,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the Research Center. “This is a reversal of last year’s trend, where the decline in the transfer-out rate had caused the first-year persistence rate to drop.”

The 2022 Persistence and Retention report shows that the transfer-out rate rebounded to 8.6%, boosting the overall persistence rate for the fall 2020 cohort. Before the pandemic, the transfer-out rate for first-time students averaged 9.2%, but precipitously fell to 7.7% for the fall 2019 cohort. As seen historically, full-time starters were more likely to transfer out than their part-time counterparts, 8.3% and 7.6%, respectively.

Furthermore, persistence and retention rates are higher for full-time students, 80.7% and 72.4%, respectively, than part-time students, 51.5% and 43.8%, respectively. However, rates began to rebound for part-time starters, +3.5 percentage points in persistence and +1.5 percentage points in retention. But full-time students declined by -0.2 percentage points in persistence and -0.7 percentage points in retention.

Community colleges and private for-profit four-year institutions saw increases in both persistence and retention, while other four-year institutions experienced small drops. The report provides detailed information and charts addressing each sector.

Persistence increased across all races/ethnicities except for Native Americans, who saw a 2.8 percentage point drop over last year. Not only do Native American students have the lowest persistence and retention rates, but they also experienced the greatest one-year decline of any group. Meanwhile, there was no notable improvement in retention, regardless of race and ethnicity.

The Persistence and Retention report series examines first-year persistence and retention rates for first-time college students. This annual report helps institutions understand trends and disparities in this important early success indicator, by institutional type, state, credential type, starting enrollment intensity, major, and student demographic characteristics such as age, race, and ethnicity. An analysis of gender disparity is included this year.

About the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse. The Research Center collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations as part of a national effort to better inform education leaders and policymakers. Through accurate longitudinal data outcomes reporting, the Research Center enables better educational policy decisions leading to improved student outcomes.

The Research Center currently collects data from more than 3,600 postsecondary institutions, which represent 97 % of the nation’s postsecondary enrollments in degree-granting institutions, as of 2019. Clearinghouse data track enrollments nationally and are not limited by institutional and state boundaries. To learn more, visit