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Persistence Moves Closer to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Persistence Moves Closer to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Inside Higher Ed 

Sara Weissman
June 29, 2022
The majority of students who started college in fall 2020 came back for their second year, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. While the persistence rate of 75 percent didn’t quite reach the pre-pandemic level of 75.9 percent, it increased 1.1 percentage points compared to the students who first enrolled in fall 2019.
The report, released Tuesday, evaluated first-year persistence and retention rates for first-time college students. Of the first-time students who persisted to fall 2021, 66.4 percent stayed at the institution where they started or completed a credential there the year they enrolled, while 8.6 percent transferred to another institution to continue their studies.
That transfer-out rate for first-time students was an improvement after dropping from an average of 9.2 percent before the pandemic to 7.7 percent in fall 2019. Full-time students were more likely to transfer out (8.3 percent) compared to part-time students (7.9 percent).
“This year’s persistence rate increase is because of the growth of first-time students transferring out in their first year rather than the increase of those remaining at their starting institution,” Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research center, said in a press release. “This is a reversal of last year’s trend, where the decline in the transfer-out rate had caused the first-year persistence rate to drop.”
Mikyung Ryu, director of research publications at the center, said while the persistence-rate increase may seem like a hopeful finding, its significance is complicated. The rise coincided with steep enrollment declines, with first-time student enrollment falling 9.9 percent in fall 2020, a loss of 255,000 students, compared to fall 2019.
That means the students who persisted to fall 2021 were largely students who had the funds and supports to begin college mid-pandemic and were more likely to successfully stay enrolled, thus raising the persistence rate, she said. Meanwhile, many older students or students from low-income or underrepresented backgrounds just didn’t start college at all that fall.
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