College Persistence Rate Drops An Unprecedented 2 Percentage Points
Of 2.6 Million First-Time Freshmen, 74% Returned for Their Second Year
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released the 2021 Persistence and Retention Report showing that of the 2.6 million students who entered college as first-time freshmen in fall 2019, 74 percent returned to college for their second year. This rate represents a pandemic-related, unprecedented one-year drop of two percentage points in this important early student success indicator.
“We can now add increased attrition of 2019 freshmen to the severe impacts of the pandemic,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “These losses erase recent improvements that colleges have made in keeping learners on track early. They will ripple through higher education for years.”
Shapiro told Ed Scoop, “This particular statistic is something that has changed very, very slowly, very little over the years. A 2% drop seems like it’s not a big deal, but this is a number that hardly ever budges. Their slow, steady increases suggested that it’s a very difficult thing to do, yet colleges have made a lot of effort and made progress. The fact that this now takes us back essentially to where we were four or five years ago in terms of the persistence rate overall, is a big deal.”
Two highlights from the report are:
- There was a marked decline in the first-year persistence rate in fall 2020 after remaining stable for the past four years. The overall persistence rate dropped two percentage points to 73.9 percent for fall 2019 beginning college students, its lowest level since 2012.
- Community colleges showed the steepest persistence rate decline over last year of all institution sectors (down 3.5 percentage points to 58.5%).
The Persistence and Retention report series examines first-year persistence and retention rates for beginning postsecondary students. Persistence rate is measured by the percentage of students who return to college at any institution for their second year, while retention rate is by the percentage of students who return to the same institution. Students attaining a credential in their first year are accounted for in persistence and retention rates.
The report is designed to help institutions understand trends and patterns in this important early success indicator, and identify disparities by institutional type, state, degree level, starting enrollment intensity, major field, and student demographic characteristics such as age, gender, and race and ethnicity.
“These losses erase recent improvements that colleges have made in keeping learners on track early. They will ripple through higher education for years.”
Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center