Racial Differences in College Persistence and Retention Rates

A new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center finds that college student persistence and retention rates are on the rise. The “persistence rate” is measured by the percentage of first-time, entering students who return to college at any institution for their second year, while the “retention rate” is the percentage of entering students who return to the same institution.

For those students who entered college in 2017, 73.8 percent persisted at any U.S. educational institution in the fall of 2018, while 61.7 percent were retained at their starting institution. These rates have inched up over the past decade.

But there remains significant differences in these rates between Blacks and Whites. The overall persistence rate for White students at all higher education institutions was 78.1 percent. For Blacks the persistence rate was 66.2 percent. The retention rate for Whites was 62.2 percent, compared to a retention rate for Blacks of 52.1 percent. Thus, only slightly more than half of all Black students who entered college in the fall of 2017, returned to the same institution in the fall of 2018.

The persistence rates for Blacks and Whites were higher at both state-operated and private four-year institutions. For Whites the persistence rate at four-year, public colleges and universities was 85.9 percent. The persistence rate for Black students was 78.4 percent. At public four-year institutions, the retention rate was 70.8 percent for Whites and 63.7 percent for Blacks.

At private, non-for-profit educational institutions, the persistence rate was 89.4 percent for Whites and 79.6 percent for Blacks. The retention rate at private, four-year colleges and universities was 75.1 percent for Whites and 63.3 percent for Blacks.

At two-year colleges, persistence and retention rates were far lower. For Whites the persistence rate was 67.1 percent, compared to 55.3 percent for Blacks. Whites at two-year colleges had a retention rate of 49.6 percent. For Blacks the retention rate was 42 percent.


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