EPI's weekly illustration of education data trends — October 29, 2014

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When Students Leave College

The predominant thought in higher education is that most students stopout or dropout of college in the first year. However, this is typically not the case. As can be seen in the first graphic below, students who started at a public four-year institution in fall 2003 dropped out in a diversified manner. In total, 65 percent of students who began their studies at a four-year public institution earned a degree within six years. At the end of six years, 13 percent of students were still enrolled. Thus, 22 percent of students left without earning a degree of any type. As illustrated, most students who dropped out left after the start of their third year (16 percent). Three percent left in each of the first two years, then 5 percent in the third year, and 11 percent during or after the fourth year.

The second graphic illustrates data for all Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) at all institutions. Thirty-six percent of students who entered in 2003-04 did not earn a degree within six years. As with public four-year institutions, over half of students (21 percent) dropped out after the start of their third year of study.

Four-Year Public Institutions

All Post-Secondary Institutions


SOURCE: BPS: 04/09. Percentage distribution of 2003-04 beginning postsecondary students according to whether they attained any degree by 2009, and if they did not, what year they left education.