Persistence, retention rates on the rise

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Community colleges saw increases in both persistence and retention rates this year, according to a new report from National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center.

This marks the second consecutive year that community colleges saw gains, approaching levels of persistence and retention not seen since the 2018 entering class, according to a NSC press release.

The big picture

Looking at the big picture, of the 2.4 million students who entered college for the first time in the fall of 2021, 75.7% persisted at any U.S. institution by fall 2022.

The NSC Research Center report found that 67.2% of students entering college in fall 2021 were retained at their starting institution for their second year or earned a credential at that institution within a year of enrollment. That’s a rate 0.5 percentage points above the pre-pandemic average.

An additional 8.6% of students transferred out and continued enrollment at another institution by their second fall. This transfer-out rate was essentially flat compared to the previous cohort.

“It is very encouraging to see that the students who entered college in the second year of the pandemic have stayed enrolled at higher rates,” Research Center Executive Director Doug Shapiro said.

But not every sector saw improvements. Besides community colleges, public and private nonprofit four-year institutions experienced increases in both persistence and retention rates this year. Private for-profit four-year colleges and primarily associate degree-granting baccalaureate (PAB) institutions, meanwhile, saw declines.

In addition, public two-year institutions were the only sector to experience increases in both full-time and part-time persistence. Both persistence and retention rates declined for part-time students at public and private for-profit four-year institutions, as well as at PABs.

A closer look

The number of certificate seekers in fall 2021 who earned a credential in their first year or persisted into their second fall increased across the top skilled trade majors by enrollment: mechanic and repair technologies, precision production, construction trades and personal and culinary services. While health care majors’ persistence and retention rates improved at all credential levels, enrollment in these majors was flat among bachelor’s degree seekers and declined among other undergraduates. Computer science saw double-digit enrollment growth and increases in persistence and retention among freshmen at all credential levels.

When looking at race and ethnicity, disparities remain large. Asian students had the highest persistence rate at 88.4%. Native American students had the lowest persistence rate at 62.1%, though Native American student persistence and retention has increased after sharp decreases last year.

Gender-related disparities were stable at the national level compared to last year’s cohort, with persistence and retention rates for female students nearly three percentage points higher than those of their male peers.

And in terms of age, persistence and retention rates held steady or increased this year for starters who were 20 years old or younger. In contrast, rates for older students fell. Those ages 21 to 24 lost about one percentage point and those 25 and older experienced larger declines in both rates.

About the Author

Tabitha Whissemore
Tabitha Whissemore is a contributor to Community College Daily and managing editor of AACC's Community College Journal.