Chalk up another bad higher education statistic to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The rate of college student persistence tumbled two percentage points last year, the largest one-year drop since 2009, when the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) began reporting this measure.
Of the 2.6 million individuals who entered college as first-time freshmen in fall 2019, 73.9% continued their studies at any U.S. institution in fall 2020 compared to the 75.9% who did so the prior year. That’s NSCRC’s measure of persistence. Similarly, the college retention rate—the proportion of the beginning cohort who returned for their second year or earned a credential in the first year at the institution where they started—also experienced its largest decline, a .7 percentage point drop to 66.2%.
Freshmen transferring out of their starting school in their first year dropped somewhat more than those remaining at their starting institution (-1.2 percentage points vs. -.7 percentage points). This pattern reflects the constrained student mobility that the NSCRC documented in its previous COVID-19 transfer report. The drop- out rate was higher among part-time than full-time students.