Promising data on persistence, retention


More than three-quarters (76.5%) of students who started college in fall 2022 returned for their second year, with community colleges seeing their highest gains in retention rates over the last decade, according to an annual report on the first-year persistence and retention rates for first-time college students.

The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center report shows the second straight year of improvement in persistence and retention overall among U.S. postsecondary institutions, with the persistence rate of community college students increasing a full percentage point to 62.6%, while the retention rate bumped up 1.6 percentage points to 55.0%. The figures represent the highest gains in retention rates for public two-year colleges over the last decade. Public four-year institutions have also seen large gains in retention rates since 2013, with the fall 2022 entering cohort’s 78.0% retention rate.

Persistence refers to returning to college at any institution for a second year, while retention refers to returning to the same institution.

“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, the center’s executive director, said in a release. “First-year persistence and retention are strong early indicators for students staying enrolled throughout their program of study and eventually completing college.”

Flat persistence rates for Black students

The report also breaks down the rates by various categories, including race/ethnicity, gender, age, full-time/part-time and selected majors, as well as data by states.

Overall, institutions retain Hispanic, Black and Native American students at rates significantly below the national rate, but figures among Black students at community colleges draw attention. While most races/ethnicities at community colleges saw gains in persistence and retention, Black students had a flat rate of 52.7% for persistence and a small increase in retention to 44.8% — with both figures at the bottom among the races/ethnicities that the reseachers examined.

Asian students at two-year colleges had the highest persistence and retention rates (75.5% and 64.4%), followed by White students (66.4% and 56.5%). Hispanic students had a comparable retention rate at 56.3%, with a persistence rate of 62.2%.

The report also provides information on primarily associate degree-granting baccalaureate institutions (PABs), which also showed gains among their students—a full percentage increase to 64.2% for persistence and 1.6 percentage point bump to 56.4% for retention. Here, too, Black students had the lowest rates, at 56.7% for persistence — which dropped from 57.3% in fall 2021 and 58.7% in fall 2020. Black students’ retention rate has also steadily dropped, to 48.8%, from 49.1% in 2021 and 50.2% in fall 2020.

While PAB students who were Asian had the highest rates in both categories, followed by White students in persistence, Hispanic students again had higher retention rates than White students, 59.0% compared to 57.0%, though White students had a larger bump up at 2.5 percentage points.

Rates up among all ages, intensity

Not surprisingly, full-time community college students have higher rates than part-time students, though both groups have seen a steady climb since fall 2019, and each hit their high persistence and retention marks for the past decade — for persistence, the rate was 70.4% for full-timers and 50.8% for part-timers, while the retention rate was 62.5% and 44.9%, respectively.

Mirroring the overall trend among all colleges and universities, younger students at community colleges continue to have much higher levels of persistence and retention than older students. For students age 20 or younger, the persistence and retention rates for fall 2022 were 66.8% (up from 66.1%) and 57.9% (up from 56.4%), respectively.

Older adults also saw slight increases in persistence and retention — 49.5% and 45.5% for those ages 21 to 24, and 45.3% and 42.8% for those 25 and older. The figures are similar to those of adult learners at public four-year institutions, the report shows.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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