75% of Fall 2020 Freshman Class Returned to College by Fall 2021
1.1 Percentage Point Improvement Trends Toward Pre-Pandemic Level
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.
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 and race, and ethnicity. An analysis of gender disparity is added this year.
For obtaining research reports tailored to your specific needs, contact the Clearinghouse’s custom research team.
“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.”
Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center