College persistence, retention rates rise to decade highs

Persistence and retention rates rose for the second straight year and are the highest they’ve been in a decade, according to a newly released report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Persistence is measured by the percentage of students who return to any institution in their second year, regardless of whether they stay at the same school in which they initially enrolled, while the retention rate is the share of students who return to the same institution.

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Nationwide, the first-year persistence rate for students who began college in Fall 2022 was 76.5%, up 0.8 percentage points compared to the Fall 2021 cohort and higher than pre-pandemic levels, Higher Ed Dive reports. The average retention rate for the Fall 2022 cohort also rose to 68.2%, up one percentage point from the previous year. Persistence and retention information is an “early success indicator,” the report says, and reveals what disparities might exist based on institution type, student demographic characteristics, and other factors that may affect student success.

“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,” Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research center, said in a statement Thursday, according to Higher Ed Dive.

Persistence, retention by institution type

Nearly all higher education institutions saw improved persistence and retention rates, except private nonprofit four-year institutions, where those rates each fell by 0.3 percentage points from the year before. Since 2018, four-year public institutions have outperformed private nonprofit four-year institutions on persistence and retention rates. For the Fall 2022 cohort, they also had higher full-time retention rates (80.9%) than private nonprofit four-year institutions (79.2%), a reversal of the pre-2017 pattern, when private nonprofit four-year institutions retained more full-time students. For the Fall 2022 cohort, for-profit institutions still had the lowest retention (50.2%) and persistence rates (44.4%) among all institution types. 

Related: Emergency grant programs help college students persist, graduate >

Gaps in retention by age, race

Younger students (age 20 years or younger) continue to have higher persistence (80.9%) and retention (71.9%) rates than students who begin postsecondary education when they’re older. Students ages 21 through 24, and 25 and older did not have persistence or retention rates exceeding 50%.

Higher education institutions still retain multiracial, Latine, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, Black, and Native American students at rates considerably below the national average. Black (56.6%), Native American (52.8%), and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (57.7%) students who entered a higher ed institution for the first time in Fall 2022 had the lowest rates of retention, Higher Ed Dive reports. Asian and white students in the Fall 2022 cohort had the highest rates of retention at 80.1% and 71.5%, respectively.

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