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Rate of College Freshmen Who Returned for Their Second Year Is Highest in a Decade

Community Colleges Have Seen the Highest Gains in Retention Rates Over the Last Decade

HERNDON, VA – (JUNE 27, 2024) – More than 76% of students who started college in the fall of 2022 returned for their second year, according to a new report on college students’ persistence and retention rates from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The 2024 Persistence and Retention report found that the persistence rate rose 0.8 percentage points to 76.5%, while the national retention rate rose one full percentage point to 68.2%. This marks the second straight year of improved persistence and retention, with each number higher than it has been in the last decade.

Persistence refers to returning to college at any institution for a second year, while retention captures return to the same institution.

“While there is still much room for further improvement, these findings are great news for students and institutions alike, and another sign that the struggles of students who enrolled during the pandemic are behind us,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “First-year persistence and retention are strong early indicators for students staying enrolled throughout their program of study and eventually completing college.”

Community colleges have seen the highest gains in retention rates over the last decade – rising 3.7 percentage points from 51.3% for those who started in the fall 2013 term to 55.0% for fall 2022 starters. Public 4-year institutions have also seen large gains in retention rates since 2013, with the fall 2022 entering cohort’s 78.0% retention rate standing 3.1 points higher than the rate for fall 2013 entering students.

Since 2018, public 4-year institutions have consistently surpassed their private nonprofit 4-year peers in retaining full-time students, with a 1.7 pp higher rate for the 2022 cohort (Public 4-year: 80.9%; Private nonprofit 4-year: 79.2%). Prior to 2017, the pattern was reversed with private nonprofit 4-year institutions retaining more full-time starters. Private nonprofit 4-year institutions were the only main institution sector to see persistence and retention rates decline for fall 2022 starters (-0.3pp for both rates).

Additional highlights of the report include: 

  • Both full-time and part-time starters in fall 2022 saw persistence rate gains of 0.9 pp and retention rate gains of over 1pp compared to starters the previous fall. Full-time starters had a persistence rate of 82.9% and a retention rate of 74.5%. The comparable numbers for part-time starters were 52.3% and 45.7%, respectively.
  • There were also larger differences in persistence and retention based on student age. Among fall 2022 starters 20 years or younger, the persistence rate was 80.9% and the retention rate was 71.9%. In comparison, the retention and persistence rates for students 21 through 24 and 25 and older did not exceed 50%.
  • Institutions retain Hispanic, Black, and Native American students at rates significantly below the national rate (63.6%, 56.6%, and 52.8%, respectively, compared to 68.2% nationally). Moreover, there was more muted growth in retention rates for Hispanic and Native American entering students in fall 2022 compared to gains nationally. Black college starters in fall 2022, however, saw retention rate increases on par with the growth in the national rate.
  • Persistence and retention rates increased for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in all the top 10 most popular major fields, including Computer Science (persistence: 85.7%, +2.1pp; retention: 77.7%, +1.7pp) and Health (persistence: 87.9%, +1.1pp; retention: 77.1%, +1.4pp). Outside the top 10, starters in bachelor’s degree programs in Communications and Journalism saw more limited gains (persistence: 90.2%, +0.4pp; retention: 81.5%, +0.9pp), while both rates declined slightly for entering bachelor’s students in Mathematics and Statistics (persistence: 91.9%, -0.4pp; retention: 84.6%, -0.3pp).
  • Among starters pursuing undergraduate certificate programs, trade-related programs in Mechanic and Repair Technologies (57.5%), Precision Production (60.0%), and Construction Trades (61.5%), along with Computer Science (57.7%) and Business (56.3%) certificates, have some of the highest persistence rates among the ten most popular fields of study.
  • Most states saw stable or positive growth in persistence and retention rates. Students starting in North Carolina (78.8%, +3.4pp), Washington (72.9%, +3.0pp), and at Multi-State/Primarily Online institutions (49.2%, +4.9pp) made particularly large gains in persistence.

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, gender, and race/ethnicity.

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. To learn more, visit nscresearchcenter.org.


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