Persistence and Retention

August 13, 2020

Seventy-six percent of first-time freshmen in fall 2018 returned to college for their second year. This rate represents the third straight year of little improvement in this important early success indicator.

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, degree level, starting enrollment intensity, state, and student demographic factors such as age, gender, and race/ethnicity.

National Highlights

  • Among the 2.6 million people who enrolled in college as a first-time undergraduate student in fall 2018, 75.9 percent (about 2 million people) persisted at any U.S. institution by fall 2019 (Figure 1a), while 67 percent (more than 1.7 million people) were retained at their starting institution (Figure 1b).
  • The overall first-year persistence rates barely changed in recent years, from 2015 to 2018.
  • An average of 9.2 percent of freshmen, in any fall term between 2009 and 2018, transferred to a different institution by the following fall. The average transfer-out rate was higher for students who first entered as full-time (9.6%) than for those who began as part-time (7.4%).

Current Report

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