College Dropout Rates in 2024: Higher Education Statistics

Updated on March 12, 2024
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Recent data from the National Center of Education Statistics (2023) shows that over 30% of students choose to leave college before graduating. While it's true that some, like well-known figures such as Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey, have achieved success without being college graduates, many students who drop out face financial struggles and fewer job options, or unemployment. 

This contrast highlights the complexities of dropout rates and their effects. But how does that issue impact higher education and job opportunities in 2024? 

Let's explore the current statistics on college dropout rates to see what's actually happening.

U.S. College Enrollment Statistics

In late 2022, U.S. colleges and universities enrolled more than 18 million students. However, many might not finish their degrees due to low graduation rates.

Which College Has the Largest Campus in the U.S.?

According to recent rankings, Texas A&M University leads with nearly 75,000 students in 2024, followed by the University of Central Florida Public with 68,442. 

Most of the largest colleges are public, except for New York University and the University of Southern California.

College Dropout Rates 1

U.S. College Dropout Rates: Essential Statistics

Around 33% of U.S. Students Dropped Out of College in 2023 

Recent data shows that only 62.3% of undergraduate students in the U.S. complete their degree programs within six years of starting. This completion rate has remained almost the same since 2021, with dropout rates around 32.9%.

However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, public schools have higher dropout rates than nonprofit private institutions. 

Public schools retain 74.8% of first-time undergraduates, while private nonprofits retain 80.2%. On the other hand, community colleges struggle even more, retaining only 61% of first-time, full-time students.

Only 41% of College Students Graduate Within Four Years

Many students in the U.S. drop out of college before finishing. That scenario makes it harder for them to get good jobs. 

According to recent studies, around 40% of college students don't finish their degrees yearly.

Only 41% graduate within four years. That puts the U.S. in 19th place out of 28 countries for college graduation rates.

College Dropout Rates 2

Graduation Rates by State: Some Are Witnessing 10% Increase

From 2016 to 2021, some states in the U.S. made significant progress in on-time graduation rates at four-year institutions, Forbes mentioned.

Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, the District of Columbia, and Massachusetts saw increases of 10% points or more, showing efforts to support students in achieving their academic goals.

The positive trend extended to two-year colleges, with six states witnessing on-time completion rates rise by at least ten percentage points: Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. 

This improvement highlights the focus on supporting students in community colleges and ensuring their timely graduation.

College Enrollment Rates in the U.S. Dropped 16% in Ten Years

Over the last decade, fewer young Americans are going to college. In 2022, 1.2 million fewer 18 to 24-year-olds enrolled compared to 2011, marking a 16% decline.

The decrease is mostly because fewer young men are going to college. According to Pew Research Center, 1 million fewer young men are enrolled, while only 0.2 million fewer young women are.

College Dropout Rates 3

Demographics of College Dropout Statistics: Gender Gap Widens

In 2022, only 39% of young men who graduated from high school went to college, down from 47% in 2011. For young women, the rate dropped from 52% to 48% during the same period.

A Pew Research Center survey shows that men were more likely than women to skip college because they didn't want to or didn't think they needed it for their desired jobs.

But both men and women equally cited money as a big reason for not finishing college.

U.S. College Retention Rates by Race

According to Research.com, the graduation and dropout rates among U.S. college students reveal a stark racial divide:

  • Asian students exhibit the highest graduation rates, with 72% completing their degree. However, 14% of Asian students fail to earn a degree, with 10% dropping out of four-year programs.
  • White students follow with a 67% graduation rate, but 21% do not complete their studies. 
  • For Hispanic students, 55% graduate (44% at the same college, 8% transferring), while 27% drop out.
  • Among American Indians, a staggering 36% drop out of college, with only 23% of full-time students managing to graduate within four years.
  • For Black students, 46% earn their degrees, but a concerning 35% fail to complete their studies. 
College Dropout Rates 4

College Completion Rate for Students with Disabilities Remains at 44%

A recent report by the NESSC revealed that students with disabilities completed college at a rate of 44% in 2022, a slight increase from the previous year. However, this rate is 25% lower than that of students without disabilities.

Significant gaps exist in completion rates between students with and without disabilities across all reporting states. Students with disabilities lag by at least 22 percentage points.

Reasons for Dropping Out: Over Half of Dropouts Leave College Due To Financial Challenges

Rising college costs and limited financial aid options make it hard for many low-income students to afford university fees. That is why recent financial reports show that 51% of college dropouts cite financial reasons for leaving. 

Despite institutions offering, more affordable options like online programs to ease financial burdens, college costs have soared over the years. 

In the 1970s, private universities cost $17,000 to $18,500, while public ones ranged from $8,000 to $9,000. By 2019, private universities charged around $37,650, and public out-of-state universities cost about $27,020.

College Dropout Rates 5

COVID-19's Impact on College Completion

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected college completion rates, with postsecondary enrollment dropping by 3.29% year over year since the start of the crisis.

According to experts, some students entered college with high grades but faced difficulties with tests and early courses. Relaxed grading during COVID-19 may have made high school grades higher without preparing students for college.

Even though grading changed, college standards stayed the same, making it hard for students to adjust.

To help students, schools like Georgia State University use predictive analytics to find and support struggling students. They also have teams to step in early and stop students from dropping out.

Billionaire College Dropouts: Separating Fact from Fiction

Famous names like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Larry Ellison often highlight the idea of achieving success without a college degree. However, data shows this isn't the norm.

Among the Forbes 400 billionaires, only 12.2% dropped out of college. Similarly, a 2017 analysis found that 16% of billionaires didn't have a Bachelor's degree, meaning 84% completed college.

While stories of dropout billionaires grab attention, most wealthy individuals have completed their college education.

College Dropout Rates 6

Income Disparities Highlight Benefits of Higher Education

Individuals with graduate degrees in America earn over three times more than those with only a high school diploma, while bachelor's degree holders make more than double. 

A Lumina study emphasizes the financial advantages of higher education, enabling individuals to have better control over their lives and career choices.

Conclusion

While dropout success stories grab attention, the truth is that they're rare exceptions. The reality is that dropping out from college significantly affects earning potential and career prospects. 

For the majority of college dropouts, finding good jobs and financial stability becomes challenging. Even some studies show how higher education leads to higher incomes and more control over life. That is why it's crucial to aim for at least a bachelor's degree.

Summary 

U.S. College Enrollment

Largest U.S. College Campuses

U.S. College Dropout Rates

Dropout Rates in U.S. Colleges Maintained Around 33% in 2023

Only 41% Graduate Within Four Years

The States Witnessing 10% of increases in Graduation Rates

College Enrollment Dropped 16% in Ten Years

Gender Gap Widens in College Enrollment

Racial Disparities in U.S. College Dropout Rates

College Completion Rate for Students with Disabilities Remains at 44%

Over Half of College Dropouts Cite Financial Challenges

COVID-19's Impact on College Completion

Billionaire College Dropouts: Separating Fact from Fiction

Income Disparities Highlight Benefits of Higher Education

Conclusion

Sources

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Andrea Mercado is a tech-focused journalist and copywriter with over 5 years of experience covering innovation, edtech, AI, and internet trends across media outlets. She is passionate about how technology can democratize access to education and is an avid learner when it comes to emerging tech like AI. Her articles and webinars help readers stay informed on the latest tech developments.
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