The rate of first-time college students returning for their sophomore year in 2013 dropped 1.2 percentage points, compared with the entering class of 2009, according to a new report from The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The retention rate, however remained about the same, meaning that college students who left school were more likely to drop out entirely, and less likely to leave one school in order to enroll somewhere else.
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The persistence rate, the measurement of students who return for their second year of college, was lowest among the youngest students. Students aged 20 or under were 1.8 percentage points less likely to return for sophomore year. Among students aged 21-24, the persistence rate fell 0.6 percentage points, while the retention rate increased 0.4 percentage points.
What does all of this mean?
“It’s possible that some students are quitting college in favor of short-term employment,” says Jason DeWitt, the center’s research manager, in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education. “The challenge is to help students take the long view in making these decisions.”
Full-time students were more likely to stay at their current school or to transfer, instead of leaving school entirely. This is in line with a previous report from NSC Research Center showed a decline in overall enrollment for the most recent semester (spring 2014) of 0.8 percent, and a decline in enrollment for part-time students of 1.4 percent.
Taken together, these numbers might indicate that high-school graduates and first-year students have greater confidence in the job market. That’s not necessarily good news for the students or prospective students themselves, however. A 2014 Pew Research Center report showed that workers aged 25 to 32 who have college degrees earned an average of $17,500 more, annually, than workers with high school diplomas.
The answer, for students who fear the rising cost of college and the possibility of incurring massive student loan debt, might not be to skip college, but to choose their majors and institutions of higher learning with ROI in mind.
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