College Dropout Rates: 2021 Statistics by Race, Gender & Income

College Dropout Rates: 2021 Statistics by Race, Gender & Income
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Finishing a college degree is a proven, first step towards a bright and successful future, as statistics often present a strong correlation between higher education and job security.

However, even today, college dropout rates continue to be an issue in the United States, as 40% of undergraduate students leave the university on a yearly basis (Education Data Initiative [EDI], 2021).

Due to the lack of college credentials, connections, and other career-related experience, research finds that dropouts are to expect a lot of economic challenges, should they ultimately decide on this path.

College Dropout Rates Table of Contents:

College Dropout Effects

College dropout effects are bound to be reflected mostly as financial difficulties in the coming years, with unemployment being the issue of most concern.

On average, these students are expected to earn $21,000 less than college graduates, ultimately making 35% less than their counterparts per year (ThinkImpact, 2021).

Furthermore, students with high school diplomas have a 12.7% more chance of living in poverty, compared to bachelor’s degree holders (or higher) at 4.8% (EDI, 2021). It is not a coincidence, too, that college dropouts have been found to be less financially knowledgeable.

Xiao, et al (2020) found out the “differences in specific financial knowledge items among college students, graduates, and dropouts… [concluding that] college graduates are more likely to perform several specific desirable financial behaviors than college students and dropouts.” Published in The Journal of Consumer Affairs, the study findings  suggest that “Financial educators should emphasize action they’re taking when they provide financial education for student loan holders who are college students and dropouts.”

In a nutshell, failing to complete a college degree would likely result in lower-income and scarce opportunity, given the active and competitive pool of graduate applicants.

probability of living in poverty between high school and college graduates

College Dropout General Statistics

College Dropout Rates in the United States

The United States experiences a daunting 40% college dropout rate every year. With only 41% of students graduating after four years without delay, American universities tend to pale at the scale of this recurring issue (ThinkImpact, 2021).

Due to such conditions, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the U.S. 19th (out of 28 countries) in graduation rates (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2021).

Graduation Rates

Statistics show that only 14.7% of those enrolled in bachelor’s degrees and 37.5% of associate’s degree-enrollees finish their studies in six years, (EDI, 2021).

In this case, American students tend to either delay their studies or drop out completely—with the latter option being more appealing to older enrollees.

  • College freshmen make up 30% of the total dropout rate (ThinkImpact, 2021).
  • In 2019, less than half of Americans aged between 25-30 had credentials that exceed a high-school diploma, as only four million aged over 25 received “some” college credit (EDI, 2021).
  • In four-year institutions, 56% of students tend to drop out after six years (What to Become, 2021).
  • Students aged between 24-29 are most likely to drop out of four-year colleges, as 52.5% of them have already left without a degree (What to Become, 2021).
  • Only 30% of these dropouts re-enroll in college to finish their degree (EDI, 2021).

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Economic Impact

Meanwhile, reports find that students with higher student loans tend to drop out more than those with less or none, likely in the hopes of reducing their expenses.

However, with student loan debt piling up to $1.5 trillion in 2019—and given that more than two million borrowers have failed to settle their accounts in the last six years—dropout rates consequently impact both the student and the economy, as the lack of a college degree would limit one’s financial recovery, (Admissionsly, 2021).

  • 51.04% of students drop out because they cannot pay for college (What to Become, 2021).
  • Moreover, 55% of students struggle to financially support their education, which results in 79% of them delaying their graduation (ThinkImpact, 2021).
  • $3.8 billion is consequently lost each year (ThinkImpact, 2021).
  • In the next 10 years, taxpayers are expected to absorb $31 billion in losses, due to more students defaulting on their loans (EDI, 2021).

College Dropout Rates by Country

From an OECD report in 2019, statistics show that the Republic of Korea had the highest population (aged between 25-34) that graduated from college.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ranked 11th—sharing this same measure with Iceland (12th) and Finland (13th)—as researchers learned that only 28% of its total population has obtained this level of education.

share of college graduates by country

College Dropout Rates by Demographics

College Dropout Rates by Race

In totality, reports indicate that Asian students are least likely to drop out of college, while Black students are more likely to. Here are the details on college dropout rates by race.

Asians

  • 72% of students finished their degrees, with 61% at the same college and 8% at a different college (ThinkImpact, 2021)
  • Furthermore, 14% no longer finish college (ThinkImpact, 2021).
  • 10% of students drop out of four-year programs and 35% of students drop out of two-year programs (EDI, 2021).

White

  • 67% of students finished their degrees, with 52% at the same college and 11% at a different college (ThinkImpact, 2021)
  • Furthermore, 21% no longer finish college (ThinkImpact, 2021).

Hispanic

  • 55% of students finished their degrees, with 44% at the same college and 8% at a different college (ThinkImpact, 2021)
  • Furthermore, 27%  no longer finish college (ThinkImpact, 2021).

American Indians

  • In both two-year and four-year colleges, 36% of American Indians drop out (EDI, 2021).
  • The number of college graduates declined from 30% to 27% between 2000 to 2017 (Admissionsly, 2021).
  • On the contrary, 23% of full-time students graduate within four years (Admissionsly, 2021).

Black

  • 46% of students finished their degrees, with 35% at the same college and 7% at a different college (ThinkImpact, 2021)
  • Black students who take four-year courses often graduate within six years; however, males are more likely to drop out (EDI, 2021).
  • Furthermore, 35% no longer finish college (ThinkImpact, 2021).

More Than One Race

  • 61% of students finished their degrees, with 49% at the same college and 9% at a different college, (ThinkImpact, 2021)
  • Furthermore, 24%  no longer finish college (ThinkImpact, 2021).

Educationdata.org, February 2021

College Dropout Rates by Gender

College dropout rates by gender show that women tend to fare better than men in college, as statistics claim that six women are enrolled for every four men. Data likewise shows that there are more female high-school graduates enrolled in college compared to men, with dropout rates 20% higher among men than women, (ThinkImpact, 2021).

In terms of graduation rates, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported in 2013 that 66% more females graduate in six years, while only 60% of males do. They further claim that:

  • In public universities, 65% of women graduate compared to 59% of men.
  • In private nonprofit colleges, 71% more women graduate than 64% of men.
  • In private for profit colleges, 28% more men graduate than 25% more women.

Suffice it to say, women are more likely to finish college, as Harvard University history and economic professor, Claudia Goldin claims that the majority of bachelor’s degrees are awarded to female graduates rather than their male counterparts. She further asserts that:

“Historically, men have been more likely to drop out of school to work in hot economies, whether it’s in the factories of World War II or the fracking mines of the Dakotas” (The Atlantic, 2021).

Men

  • In 2018, 66.7% of high school graduates aged between 16-24 were enrolled in university (EDI, 2021).
  • In median lifetime income, male college graduates earn about $900,000 more than high-school graduates (ThinkImpact, 2021).
  • 70% of the 2020 enrollment decline accounted for male students (The Atlantic, 2021).

Women

  • In 2018, 71.3% of high-school graduates aged between 16-24 were enrolled in university (EDI, 2021).
  • In terms of median lifetime income, female college graduates earn about $630,000 more than high-school graduates (ThinkImpact, 2021).

College Completion Rates for Low-Income Students

Without a doubt, wealth largely influences a student’s decision on their preferred college and degree program.

In the academic year 2020-2021 alone, college tuition was estimated to be around $37,650 in private colleges, and between $10,560 (in-state) and $27,020 (out-of-state) in public colleges—thus, students with lower incomes tend to experience difficulties in keeping up with the college costs necessary to secure their education (What to Become, 2021)

Forty-two percent of low-income students are more likely to take up associate degrees, while 32% would pursue bachelor’s degrees (Inside Higher Ed, 2019). Moreover:

  • 51% of these students enroll in two-year (ie. community college) or shorter programs.
  • 28% attend public colleges.
  • 13% attend for-profit colleges.
  • 8% attend private colleges.

Also, 78% of higher-income students tend to enroll in four-year degrees, while only 13% pursue two-year degrees (Inside Higher Ed, 2019). Furthermore:

  • 54% of these students enroll in public colleges.
  • 26% attend private colleges.
  • 18% attend community colleges.
  • 2% attend for-profit colleges.

In exclusive colleges, 37% more higher-income students outpace 7% of lower-income enrollees, since their financial advantage allows them to focus more on university requirements (Inside Higher Ed, 2019).

After graduating high school, 53% of low-income students either delay or do not enroll in college, while only 11% of higher-income students do the same; as 88% of them enter university within a year (Inside Higher Ed, 2019).

In addition, “first generation students” or students whose parents have not obtained a college degree, tend to leave college more, as they comprise 40% of college dropouts (EDI, 2021). Granted, 89% of those coming from low-income families are also more likely to drop out of university (ThinkImpact, 2021).

Yet, whether they come from a public or private university, a study from U.S. News shows that schools themselves do not inherently disadvantage students of poorer backgrounds. Rather, it is their family’s financial history and overall educational attainment that directly affect their educational opportunities.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education & The Workforce, 2018

College Dropout Rates for Students in Foster Care

Foster kids have a smaller likelihood of finishing college due to financial challenges.

  • Only 8-10% of students in foster care graduate from college (ThinkImpact, 2021).
  • However, when given support, their graduation rates increase by 44%.

College Dropout Rates for Students with Disabilities

Special Education is given to students diagnosed with one or more of the 13 disabilities. according to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, But due to the lack of accommodations provided by higher education institutes, students with disabilities tend to drop out of college. Janine Solomon, an attorney at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, notes that:

“In the end…a lot of the onus will come back on the school. It is a large task, and it is more of an ‘it takes a village’ approach” (Hechinger Report, 2017).

College dropout rate for students with disabilities show that:

  • While 90% of high school graduates with disabilities are expected to be “college-ready,” less than 35% of students graduate from four-year colleges in eight years, and those enrolled in two-year courses fare worse, (Higher Ed Dive, 2017).
  • 49% of students diagnosed with ADHD but are not given medication are more likely to drop out (What to Become, 2021).
  • 47% of students diagnosed with schizophrenia tend to leave university (What to Become, 2021).
  • A third of students diagnosed with depression do not finish their degree (What to Become, 2021).

College Retention and Graduation Rates by State

Retention Rate

Retention rate pertains to the percentage of first-time, freshmen undergraduates who continue to enroll in the following academic year. In U.S. colleges, the average retention rate is about 71%.

A 2017-2018 study from ThinkImpact (2021) further details that:

  • Four-year institutions with open admissions recorded a 62% retention rate, while those with acceptance rates less than 25% have a 97% retention rate. This indicates that students enrolled in more exclusive colleges are more likely to finish their degrees.
  • Public two-year institutions have a 62% retention rate, while private institutions average 66% at “for-profits” and 72% at non-profits.

Graduation Rate

Meanwhile, graduation rate refers to the percentage of first-time, freshmen undergraduates who complete their degree “within 150% of the published time for the program” (FAFSA, 2021). This means that four-year course undergraduates are expected to finish their degree in six years, while two-year course enrollees should graduate in three.

Yet, despite the soaring numbers of college enrollments, college dropouts tend to deplete the statistic on the average graduation rate is only 59% in U.S. colleges (Admissionsly, 2021).

  • 57% of students delay their four-year courses while 33% of them drop out (ThinkImpact, 2021).
  • 36% of students from private universities graduate on time while 17% do in public or non-flagship colleges, (Admissionsly, 2021).
  • In two-year colleges, about 15.9% graduate with only 5% finishing their degree on time, (Admissionsly, 2021).

Graduation Rates by State

In totality, Massachusetts reports the highest college retention rates by state at 44% while West Virginia ranks lowest at 21%. With Harvard University and the M.I.T. in its ranks, the former state is reported to have the sixth-highest funding for education, as well as the highest salary for educators, which, therefore, allows most students to thrive in its learning environments (MassLive, 2021).

Moreover, in 2021, the World Population Review reports the following:

Source: World Population Review 2021

Source: World Population Review 2021

Why Do Students Drop Out of College?

Based on statistics, America’s growing college dropout rate is attributed mostly to financial challenges. With tuition costs having risen by 1,375% since 1978—and with universities requiring more from applicants, through the years—students, thus have to decide between finishing their degree or dropping out to resolve their lingering hardships.

Financial Concerns

Based on research from ThinkImpact (2021), 38% of students admit to dropping out because of financial pressure. Provided the increasing expenses of higher education as well as the difficulty of finding scholarships, grants, and financial aid, low-income students often cannot keep up with university demands.

In addition, 9% of students state that the lack of family support contributes to their struggle.

Academic Disqualification

Academic pressure accounts for 28% of college dropouts, as students may be unprepared or unequipped for the challenges of university-level schooling (ThinkImpact, 2021).

In fact, 25% of students who have taken college readiness— assessments were still redirected to remedial courses—with fewer of them even graduating, due to this educational and financial roadblock (EDI, 2021).

Difficulty in Balancing Life and College

54% of college dropouts claim that the difficulty of balancing a work-study arrangement has caused them to leave college. The EDI reports that universities tend to lessen their financial aid coverage for students earning more than $7,000, thus, putting part-time and low-income students in a tough position.

Should they fail to integrate themselves with university life—be it in academics, expenses, or their full-time commitment—students might consider dropping out, in order to seek more accommodating opportunities elsewhere.

Finishing College Is Key to a Bright Future

There are many factors that come into play when students decide to drop out of college. Be it the rising costs or demanding academics, over the years, similar reasons have continued to bring about college dropouts, regardless of a university’s student demographic, status, and location.

But keep in mind: Getting a college education is the key to achieving a successful future. Therefore, what is important now is to understand how these challenges impact aspiring university graduates, in order to plan ahead and finish your degree on time.

 

References:

  1. Admissionsly. (2021). Eye-Opening College Dropout Rates & Statistics – 2021. https://admissionsly.com/college-dropout-rates/ 
  2. Fain, P. (2019). Wealth’s Influence on Enrollment and Completion. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/05/23/feds-release-broader-data-socioeconomic-status-and-college-enrollment-and-completion 
  3. Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). (n.d.). What are graduation, retention, and transfer rates? https://fafsa.ed.gov/help/fotw91n.htm 
  4. Hanson, M. (2021). College Dropout Rates. Education Data Initiative (EDI). https://educationdata.org/college-dropout-rates#:~:text=In%20the%20United%20States%2C%20the,college%20dropout%20rate%20at%2054%25
  5. Mader, J. and Butrymowicz, S. (2017). The vast majority of students with disabilities don’t get a college degree. https://hechingerreport.org/vast-majority-students-disabilities-dont-get-college-degree/ 
  6. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2021). International Educational Attainment. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cac 
  7. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2021). Undergraduate Retention and Graduation Rates. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/ctr 
  8. Smith, T. (2021). Massachusetts has the best school system in America, study says. MassLive. https://www.masslive.com/living/2021/07/massachusetts-has-the-best-school-system-in-america-study-says.html 
  9. ThinkImpact. (2021). College Dropout Rates. https://www.thinkimpact.com/college-dropout-rates/ 
  10. Thompson, D. (2021). Colleges Have a Guy Problem. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/09/young-men-college-decline-gender-gap-higher-education/620066/ 
  11. What To Become. (2021). Everything You Need to Know About the College Dropout Rate. https://whattobecome.com/blog/college-dropout-rate/ 
  12. World Population Review. (2021). College Graduation Rates By State 2021. https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/college-graduation-rates-by-state 

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