College Persistence Among First-Time Students Declines, Clearinghouse Says

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff 

While college retention rates since 2009 have remained constant, the percentage of first-time students still enrolled at any college in their second fall terms dropped 1.2 percentage points in the same time period, according to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse.

The report released Thursday is the latest Snapshot Report from the Clearinghouse on persistence and retention in higher education. It measures the persistence and retention rates of students who entered college in the fall of 2009 through those who entered in the fall of 2012, as well as students who enrolled for the next fall term.

The persistence rate, as defined in the report, is the percentage of students who return to college for their second year, no matter which institution they are enrolled in. The retention rate is the percentage of second-year students who are returning to the same institution.

Among the first-time students who enrolled in fall 2012, 68.7 percent returned to a college in fall 2013, while 58 percent returned to the same institution where they had completed their first year. In addition, the overall persistence for each entering cohort is around 11 percentage points higher than the retention rate. According to the report, “one in nine students who start college in any fall term transfer to a different institution by the following fall.”

In addition, Clearinghouse data shows that the persistence rate is down 1.8 percent since 2009 for students age 20 and under, while there has been consistency in the retention rate. First-time students at four-year private institutions showed the largest drop in persistence at 2.8 percentage points, followed by four- and two-year public institutions at a drop of 2.3 percentage points each. Four-year for-profits saw an increased in persistence by 0.7 percentage points.

“Getting past the first year, either by staying put or by transferring to another institution, is one of the most important milestones to a college degree,” Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the Clearinghouse’s Research Center, said in a press release. “We need to find better solutions for keeping students on track to graduation, whether that means the student transfers or stays put.”

In it’s final report, NASFAA’s Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery (RADD) task force included several recommendations to incentivize schools to improve college success and completion rates, including: 

  • Set aside a portion of campus-based funds for participating institutions to be awarded based on the institution’s graduation rate;
  • Offer an immediate financial incentive in the form of extra Pell dollars (i.e., Super Pell), on top of a full-time Pell Grant scheduled award for enrollments greater than 12 credit hours; and
  • Create a “Pell Well” of funds available for students to use throughout the course of an undergraduate education in order to increase predictability for Pell-eligible students and their families.

Implementing any of all of the RADD task forces’ recommendations would be a first step toward increasing persistence rates nationwide.


Publication Date: 7/14/2014

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