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Home Blog 27 Fascinating Facts About the US College Dropout Rate

27 Fascinating Facts About the US College Dropout Rate

by Branka Vuleta

Are you thinking about dropping out of college? Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed and want to try something different?

Whatever the case may be, you are certainly wondering about the college dropout rate and how it affects you and your chance of finishing college.

With that in mind, we wanted to give you a detailed report with all the vital statistics and numbers you need to know about college dropouts. 

The article is here to show you the reality of the situation in the US. It’s also here to try to convince you not to give up. 

Now, before we get started, let’s take a look at some of the most interesting and most important college dropout statistics we were able to find.

Editor’s Choice:

  • Only 41% of students graduate from college in four years.
  • 56% of students at four-year colleges drop out within six years of studying.
  • 30% of students drop out of college after their first year.
  • College dropouts earn 35% less per year than those who graduate.
  • As many as 43% of all students who enroll in two-year public colleges drop out without ever getting a degree.
  • Only 5% of students at two-year colleges end up graduating on time.
  • Full-time students are 55% less likely to drop out than part-time students.
  • Around 20% more men drop out compared to women.
  • Only 11.6% of students who drop out will end up transferring and getting their degrees elsewhere.
  • Only 45% of students get their degree or certificate at the college they first attended.

The Most Important Statistics on College Dropout Rates

college dropout rate - graduation

1. Only 41% of students graduate from college in four years. (CNBC)

Moreover, only 59% of students finish college in six years. Many students who continue studying still have to pay for their studies. The cost of studying is one of the main reasons for giving up on college. In 1989, the cost of one year at a private college was $17,010 and $3,360 at a public college. Today, the prices are $35,830 and $10,230 on average.

To show how expensive this is and how unable students are to pay for it, you only need to take a look at the fact that around 44 million Americans have $1.56 trillion in student debts. No wonder college graduation rates aren’t nearly as high as they should be.

2. 56% of students at four-year colleges drop out within six years of studying. (College Atlas)

It’s not easy to finish college, but it seems that after six years, more than half of students feel it’s time to give up. We can’t blame them, but if you’re in your sixth year, you should know that this is also the time when most students graduate. So, don’t give up just yet!

3. 30% of students drop out of college after their first year. (College Atlas)

30% may seem acceptable, but it’s alarming when you consider the fact that it represents only a small number of students. It only shows the first-year college dropout rate. The overall rate is much higher.

4. The number of university students under the age of 25 was 12.5 million in 2019, while the number of those older than 25 was 7.4 million. (NCES)

Students over the age of 25 are usually the ones who haven’t finished their studies on time. Since the number of them is so significant when compared to the number of students under the age of 25, it goes to show how hard it is for many to finish college on time. It also shows that the average time to graduate college is very high, lately around six years.

5. 70% of Americans attend a four-year college, yet less than two-thirds of them will graduate. (College Atlas)

That is another stat that goes to show how high the dropout rate in college actually is. It shows that a lot of students won’t finish college. In other words, every third student doesn’t finish college, which is not a small number.

6. College dropouts earn 35% less per year than those who graduate. (College Atlas)

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find any college dropout rates by year. Still, some other compelling statistics show that college dropouts have significantly lower salaries when compared to college graduates. On average, the annual salaries of dropouts are $21,000 lower than those of college graduates. In their lifetime, male graduates will earn around $900,000 more while female graduates will earn about $630,000 more. 

7. 51% of students who didn’t have enough money to pay for their studies in the 2017/2018 school year decided to drop out. (Lendedu) 

The main reason for dropping out among college students is money. However, another common reason is the inability to balance school, work, and family. In a way, it’s tied to the main financial motivation, as students are forced to juggle their studies and jobs that are necessary to pay for those studies. Thus, the most common reason for high university dropout rates is the lack of money for college. Does that mean that universities are too expensive for students?

8. Only 57% of students who enroll in two-year and four-year colleges end up graduating after six years of studying. (Thirdway)

Only 57% is barely over half of the entire student body. The number comes from the National Center for Education Statistics and represents a big part of all colleges in the country. According to the same data, only 33.3% of students in public colleges graduate after the standard four years. When we look at these numbers, the national college dropout rate is turning out to be more than alarming. 

9. If the graduation rate of 57% were to increase to the high school graduation rate of 84%, we would see several improvements in our society. (Thirdway)

Logically, we would have a larger number of degree holders per year. A total of 1.3 million more graduates would enter the workforce every year. These people would have more chances of getting a job, and the unemployment rate would thus drop as well. Such a massive decrease in college dropout rates would also entail fewer people stricken by poverty and less use of public assistance funds. 

10. Out of the 57% of students who don’t finish college after six years, 33% of them drop out entirely. (CreditDonkey)

The remaining 24% stay in school, be it full-time or part-time. Still, the vast majority of them give up in the end, so it stands to reason that it’s best to finish college before those six years expire. That way, you won’t end up being part of these terrible college dropouts statistics

11. As many as 43% of all students who enroll in two-year public colleges drop out without ever getting a degree. (CreditDonkey)

A large number of dropouts is usually attributed to the fact that the vast majority of these students are stuck in remedial classes at the college level. This system lengthens the time it takes for people to graduate, which in turn decreases the likelihood that a person will finish college. If you have ever wondered what the exact community college dropout rate is in the United States, now you know. 

12. Only 5% of students at two-year colleges end up graduating on time. (CreditDonkey)

Some may assume that two-year colleges are much easier, but these numbers paint a different picture. However, when we look at their graduation rates, they tend to be slightly higher (by 15.9%) when compared to other types of colleges. 

13. The highest dropout rate in any college is found at the Southern New Hampshire University. (The Edvocate)

We don’t have the exact dropout rates, as colleges don’t show such records (probably in an attempt to maintain credibility). However, we were still able to find the college with the highest dropout rate by looking at retention rates.

The Southern New Hampshire University, located in Manchester, New Hampshire, has the lowest retention rate in the US, currently standing at 61%. However, this college has made improvements in the last decade. It has focused a lot on getting its students to graduate, so we can expect its retention rates to get higher.

Other College Dropout Statistics

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14. The dropout rate varies significantly for different races in the United States, often by as much as 30%. (CreditDonkey)

According to CreditDonkey, the dropout rates vary a lot among the races. The number is the lowest for Caucasians, with around 38% of them being dropouts. Asians are usually the best in this regard, better than Caucasians by 1.2%. As for Hispanics, about half of them (54.8%) enroll in college but don’t graduate in the next six years.

When looking at the statistics for the college dropout rate by race, we find that the worst numbers exist in the African-American community. Around 62% of African Americans don’t complete their studies within the first six years. 

15. Only one-fourth of students who take remedial college courses end up finishing them. (CreditDonkey)

Many might say that taking remedial college courses only results in prolonging graduation and increases the bills. In many ways, they are right. Also, if you thought that the college dropout rates by race were discouraging, these numbers for remedial college course takers must look even worse. Many are required to take them, and only 25% of students finish them. That raises the following question—should we consider canceling them since they are not effective? With numbers like these, we should answer that question as soon as possible. 

16. Full-time students are 55% less likely to drop out than part-time students. (College Atlas)

The college dropout rate for 2019 goes to show that even though being a full-time student is tougher than studying part-time, it’s still likelier to result in graduation. If you feel like dropping out, this stat should be more than enough to deter you for now. If not that, it should give you hope and encourage you to try harder.

17. People without a degree are two times more likely not to have a job than those who finish college. (College Atlas)

Yes, college is expensive and hard to finish. However, college completion rates and other statistics show that a college diploma is still crucial for your future employment. 

18. Around 20% more men drop out compared to women. (College Atlas)

This is according to a six-year-long study that included thousands of students. It shows that women seem to be more persistent with higher education than men. Thus, it’s no wonder that men are usually the ones who decide to drop out of college and pursue a business dream they have.

19. Only 11.6% of students who drop out will end up transferring and getting their degrees elsewhere. (Thirdway)

The current college dropout statistics tell us that roughly one in ten students who drop out re-enroll elsewhere and graduate. This number is for four-year colleges. Still, it’s almost identical for two-year colleges and stands at precisely 11.2% at the moment. 

20. Some colleges in the US have graduation rates that are as low as 8%. (The Edvocate)

Several colleges in the US have extremely low six-year graduation rates. The University of the District of Columbia has the lowest one, with a graduation rate of 8%. Other colleges that follow with similarly bad graduation rates are Haskell Indian Nations University (9%), Oglala Lakota College (11%), Texas Southern University, and Chicago State University (13%).

Those colleges naturally have a very high average college dropout rate, as well. What’s also devastating here is the fact that a large number of minorities attend them. In fact, most colleges with high percentages of minorities have low graduation rates.

21. College dropouts are four times more likely to default on their student loans when compared to college graduates. (CreditDonkey)

Student debt is a massive problem today. We have reached a crisis point when it comes to how enormous student loan debts are today. The college dropout statistics for 2019 also show that the total amount of student loan debt has reached $1.41 trillion. On top of that, college dropouts have a much harder time paying off their loans then graduates. However, college graduates often have those problems as well.  

22. A total of 3.9 million undergraduates with student loan debt have dropped out of college from 2015 to 2016. (Hechinger Report)

Even older data paints a similar picture. When we take a look at this information, the college dropout rate in those years was equally problematic as it is today. 2.5 million of these students attended public colleges, while 900,000 were enrolled in for-profit colleges. 

23. Only 45% of students get their degree or certificate at the college they first attended. (Forbes)

The data is for students in their first six years of studying. All in all, it means that an overwhelming number of students don’t fail to graduate, but they fail to obtain their degree at the first college they attend and therefore decide to try their luck at a different one. It goes to show that transfers are far more common today than some may think. If you were wondering how many people drop out of the college they attended first, now you know. 

24. 12% of students who don’t finish their studies after the first six years end up transferring and completing their studies at a different college. (Forbes)

That results in a total completion rate of 57% for these students. However, these numbers don’t mean that you shouldn’t transfer. If the studies at your current institution are simply not going well and are unlikely to improve, you should consider transferring to a college where you’ll have more chances. 

25. The state with the highest graduation rate is Massachusetts. (Business Insider)

While looking at some interesting statistics of college dropouts, we found some fascinating stats that show that the state of Massachusetts has the highest graduation rate. Currently, 73.5% of students of Massachusetts-based colleges graduate within six years. After Massachusetts comes Rhode Island (71.1%), Washington (69.3%), Iowa (68.5%), Maryland (68.3%), Connecticut (68%), New Hampshire (67.7%) (interestingly enough, the college with the worst retention rate in the country is located here), Vermont (67.1%), Pennsylvania (67%), and Virginia (67%).

26. The American economy will have 55 million job openings in 2020, and 65% of those will require you to have a college degree. (National Review)

The high US college dropout rate is turning into a severe problem when you consider this piece of information. It gives a clear indication that you are placed at a significant disadvantage in your job search without a college degree. From this number, we can see that only 35% or some 19 million job openings will not require you to have a college degree. Naturally, most of these jobs will offer much lower incentives and lower salaries as well. 

27. 34 million Americans over the age of 25 have college credits but don’t have a degree. (National Review)

The percentage of college dropouts among these 34 million people is naturally very high. What’s more, all of these people most likely have debt and very few decent career options. If you are among these 34 million Americans, it’s time to try harder and do the best you can to finish your studies and get that degree. Only then will you gain great career opportunities that are bound to lead toward a job you’ll end up loving.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the dropout rate?

The meaning of this phrase, according to most dictionaries, is the same—the dropout rate for college is the percentage of students who fail to graduate from college. It’s mostly shown as a percentage, but in some cases, it can be shown as a number or as a comparison (for example, one in every ten students drops out). The dropout rate metric is used for most types of schools, not only for colleges. 

Are college dropout rates increasing?

Most Americans are well aware that the US has a big college dropout problem. Since the 1980s, more and more high school graduates have been entering colleges across the country. However, most statistics show that since the 1970s, the average completion rate in the US has been consistently on the decline. Even though the percentage of Americans with college degrees has been on the rise, which is clearly seen in most examples of college graduation rates over time, the situation remains the same.

The problem of dropout rates at colleges at the moment is so big that the New York Times can safely say that around one in every three students never finish college or earn a degree. The problem can be solved, but colleges need to take this matter seriously. They need to start encouraging students to take a full load of classes to graduate within four years. Also, they need to provide them with academic advising in a more proactive manner. These are just some of the many things that colleges can do to motivate their students to graduate. 

What college has the highest dropout rate?

We all know that there is a big difference among universities across the country when we take a look at their graduation rates. However, that means that the same thing goes with their dropout rates. We can find colleges with the highest dropout rates in the country by looking at their retention rates. The average retention rate for American colleges is 71.2%. However, there are several colleges with much lower retention rates.

The winner here (or looser) is the Southern New Hampshire University that has a 61% retention rate, as we’ve already mentioned. Other colleges with extremely low retention rates are the University of Charleston (66%), Southeastern University (67%), Brigham Young University—Idaho (68%), and Southern Wesleyan University (69%).

What is the dropout rate for college students?

Depending on what you’re looking for, the numbers and percentages vary a lot. Also, many colleges don’t like to show real numbers, as that might hurt their reputation. Therefore, it’s hard to determine what the exact dropout rate is for college students in the US. Many reports show that it’s the highest in the world, even though the completion rates are very high as well.

When compared to the most standard completion rate, which is the one that shows the percentage of students who graduate after six years of college, you then have a much clearer picture. If that number is around 60%, the dropout rate is thus 40%, which is the number you will most often find. 

How many college dropouts are successful?

Even though we constantly hear about the big American college dropout problem, we also know many individuals who have become hugely successful after dropping out of college. Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, James Cameron, and Mark Zuckerberg are just a few of the many people who became extremely rich after dropping out of college.

However, statistics paint a different picture, since those people are the exception to the norm. In most cases, the most successful people have graduated from college. If we look at the total number of all American millionaires, only 20% of them never attended college. 

Why do college students drop out?

As we have already discussed in this article, most college dropouts become dropouts because they are unable to afford their studies. However, there are other reasons why people drop out. For example, another common cause is the fact that they needed to get a full-time job. Furthermore, they also state factors like family issues, too much stress, being unsure of which major to declare, personal emergencies, a demotivating school environment, and other reasons. 

What percentage of college dropouts return to school?

We all know that it’s possible to re-enroll in college after dropping out. According to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), only around 13% of college dropouts go back to school in the next five years. What’s worse, out of all of those who re-enroll, only about a half eventually obtain a degree.

Most of those who re-enroll go to community colleges when they decide to re-enroll, but some also choose online schooling. If you were wondering about what is the percentage of college dropouts who go back to school, now you know. However, that doesn’t mean that the result should discourage you. Despite how these statistics might seem to you, it’s never too late to go back to school, and it’s certainly worth a try. Who knows, you might be one of those who will prove that everything’s possible when you make a firm decision and act on it.  

How many students drop out of college because they can’t afford it?

We already stated that financial reasons are the most common motivator for dropping out of college for American students. The statistics show that around half of all college dropouts decide to drop out because they are no longer able to afford their studies. The worse thing here is that according to the same survey, 79% of those surveyed said that they thought about delaying their graduation because of financial issues. Furthermore, 55% said that they struggled to find money to pay for their studies.

The Bottom Line

We covered all the statistics and information you need to know about the college dropout rate in the United States. 

Instead of finding a reason not to graduate, you should use these stats only to gain a better understanding of the college situation. In fact, these stats and information presented here should encourage you to try harder and eventually become a college graduate.

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