College Dropout Rate Statistics

by Gail Flores

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While having a college degree can be a path to success, millions of students drop out each year. This decision can have ripple effects throughout people’s lives and society as a whole, even influencing educational institutions themselves.

But just how many students drop out and how does it affect one’s job prospects, earning potential, and overall well-being? How do college dropouts fare compared to their peers who complete their degree programs?

In this article, we’ll shed light on the top statistics on the college dropout rate, including:

  • General college dropout statistics
  • States with the highest college dropout rate
  • States with the lowest college dropout rate
  • College dropout rate in all states
  • College dropout rate by gender
  • College dropout rate by race
  • College dropout rate by institution
  • College dropout rate among parents
  • College dropout rate among people with disabilities
  • Factors contributing to college dropout rate
  • Effects of college dropout rate
  • Top occupations of people who drop out of college
  • Famous people who dropped out of college

Let’s get started!

Top college dropout statistics

  • 40% of college students drop out every year.
  • There are an estimated 43.3 million college dropouts in the US.
  • California accounts for the largest share of college dropouts (15.27% at 6.6 million).
  • College dropouts have a higher unemployment rate (6.4%) than college graduates (3.6%). This is true for both men (4.8%) and women (5.9%).
  • College dropouts earn 56.15% less than college graduates, with median annual earnings of $39,900 compared to $91,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • The main reasons students drop out of college are finances (42%), family reasons or commitments (32%), and that the field of study is not the right fit (30%).
  • The majority of college dropouts are from community colleges (58.3%)
  • Full-time students are less likely to drop out of college than part-time students.
  • Asian students have the lowest college dropout rate (10.9%), while American Indian/Alaska Natives have the highest dropout rate at 45.1%.
  • Most college dropouts work in sales and office occupations (20.7%), and service occupations (18.5%).
  • Single parents are more likely to have dropped out of college than parents in two-parent households, with 20.7% of single parents reporting that they have not completed college, compared to 11.4% of parents in two-parent families.

General college dropout statistics

1. 40% of college students drop out every year.

2. There are an estimated 43.3 million college dropouts in the US, which is 3.6% higher than the previous year. (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2021).

3. First-time degree seekers who are enrolled part-time have a college dropout rate of 53.8%, while full-time students have an average college dropout rate of 39.5%. (NCES).

4. About 2.9 million or 7.3% college dropouts are “potential completers” who have already made at least two years’ worth of academic progress. (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center [NSCRS]).

5. The US ranks 7th out of 36 OECD countries in graduation rates. (NCES).

6. There are 16.9 million students in 2023 enrolled in postsecondary institutions and only 41% of students graduate after four years without delay, while 62.2% graduate within six years. (NSCRS).

7. During the academic year 2021/22, over 864,000 college dropouts re-enrolled.

8. 53,300 college dropouts completed their first-ever undergraduate credential the same year they re-enrolled, and 508,700 re-enrollees from the previous year persevered into their second year.

States with the highest college dropout rate

9. The largest share of college dropouts (15.27%, 6.6 million) were last enrolled in California but when accounting for the size of enrollment in the state, Alaska has the largest proportion of college dropouts in the US per 1,000 undergraduates (5,400 college dropouts per 1,000 current undergraduates in the state).

10. Here are the top 10 states with the highest shares of college dropouts:

  • California (15.27%)
  • Texas (6.03%)
  • New York (4.64%)
  • Illinois (4.48%)
  • Florida (3.83%)
  • Ohio (3.23%)
  • Michigan (2.68%)
  • Washington (2.68%)
  • Pennsylvania (2.59%)
  • North Carolina (2.56%)

States with the lowest college dropout rate

11. Here are the top 10 states with the lowest shares of college dropouts:

  • Vermont (0.15%)
  • Delaware (0.16%)
  • South Dakota (0.16%)
  • North Dakota (0.17%)
  • Wyoming (0.23%)
  • New Hampshire (0.24%)
  • Montana (0.26%)
  • Alaska (0.28%)
  • Rhode Island (0.30%)
  • Maine (0.32%)

College dropout rate by state

StatePercentage share of all college dropoutsTotal number of college dropouts
Alabama1.08%469,488
Alaska0.28%121,035
Arizona1.68%726,293
Arkansas0.73%314,843
California15.27%6,612,278
Colorado1.68%726,076
Connecticut0.89%384,799
D.C.0.09%38,618
Delaware0.16%68,540
Florida3.83%1,661,306
Georgia1.78%773,228
Hawaii0.23%99,625
Idaho0.44%190,536
Illinois4.48%1,942,815
Indiana1.78%769,286
Iowa0.89%386,692
Kansas0.92%398,413
Kentucky1.41%611,023
Louisiana1.11%478,853
Maine0.32%137,281
Maryland1.47%635,665
Massachusetts1.67%719,985
Michigan2.68%1,159,852
Minnesota1.41%612,294
Mississippi0.76%328,330
Missouri1.57%678,566
Montana0.26%113,914
Nebraska0.73%315,301
Nevada0.88%383,036
New Hampshire0.24%102,777
New Jersey1.83%792,527
New Mexico0.7%301,215
New York4.64%2,011,385
North Carolina2.56%1,109,025
North Dakota0.17%75,358
Ohio3.23%1,398,230
Oklahoma0.97%418,509
Oregon1.83%791,143
Pennsylvania2.59%1,121,313
Rhode Island0.30%129,361
South Carolina1.12%487,205
South Dakota0.16%69,787
Tennessee1.47%635,828
Texas6.03%2,614,007
Utah0.92%400,221
Vermont0.15%66,956
Virginia2.20%954,052
Washington2.68%1,160,584
West Virginia0.44%192,168
Wisconsin1.72%744,153
Wyoming0.23%97,491
US Territories0.37%158,248
Multi-State*2.04%883,808
POIs*4.3%1,858,790
Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (2022).

**Multi-State and Primarily Online Institutions (POIs) are not included in individual state counts but are included in the national total. POIs are institutions where over 90 percent of students are enrolled exclusively in distance education courses.

College dropout rate by institution

12. The college dropout rate in two-year institutions is 38.6%, while the college dropout rate in four-year institutions is 24.5%.

13. In four-year institutions, the college dropout rate for full-time students is 17.7%, while for two-year institutions, it’s 39.5%.

14. First-time degree seekers who are enrolled full-time in four-year institutions have a college dropout rate of 17.7%, while non-first-time, full-time students have a college dropout rate of 20.9%.

College dropout rate in community colleges

15. Community colleges are the most common type of institution of last enrollment, re-enrollment, and first credential attainment for college dropouts. (NCSCRC).

16. 58.3% of college dropouts were last enrolled in community colleges.

17. Community colleges have lower graduation rates, with 28.1% of full-time students completing an associate’s degree in 3 years or less (NCES).

College dropout rate in private nonprofit institutions

18. Private nonprofit institutions have an average college dropout rate of 30.5%.

19. In two-year private nonprofit institutions, the college dropout rate for part-time students is much higher than average at 62.6%, while the college dropout rate for full-time students is 29.6%.

20. 51.2% of students enrolled in four-year, private, nonprofit institutions graduate within four years. (NCES)

21. 58.1% of students in two-year, private, and nonprofit institutions graduate within four years.

College dropout rate in private for-profit institutions

22. Private for-profit institutions have an average college dropout rate of 30.9%. (NCES).

23. 63.3% of students enrolled in two-year programs in private for-profit institutions graduate within four years of entry. (NCES).

24. Only 27.6% of students enrolled in four-year, private, and for-profit institutions graduate within four years. (NCES).

25. In two-year private for-profit institutions, the college dropout rate for part-time students is higher than average at 40.4%, while the college dropout rate for full-time students is 30.9%. (NCES).

College dropout rate by age

Age groupCollege dropout numberPercentage of all college dropouts
18 to 19 years old2,210,0005.11%
20 to 24 years old7,658,00017.71%
25 to 29 years old3,891,0008.99%
30 to 34 years old3,438,0007.95%
35 to 39 years old3,083,0007.13%
40 to 49 years old5,362,00012.40%
50 to 59 years old5,750,00013.29%
60 to 64 years old3,197,0007.39%
65 years old and above8,734,00020.19%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

College dropout rate by gender

26. 48.49% of college dropouts are male while 51.51% of college dropouts are female.

27. 21,008,000 of all college dropouts are male. (NCES).

28. 22, 316, 000 of all college dropouts are female. (NCES).

College dropout rate by race

29. Hispanic and Black students collectively comprised 43% of the total college dropouts, compared to 34.7% of overall undergraduates. (NSCRC).

30. The majority of undergraduate students in the US are White, making up 52.8% of students. Lower numbers of undergraduates were Hispanic (21.8%), Black (13%), Asian (7.2%), of Two or more races (4.3%), American Indian/Alaska Native (0.7%), and Pacific Islander (0.3%).

31. Asians have the lowest college dropout rate, at 10.9%.

College dropout rate: Asian

32. Asian students have a 10.9% dropout rate.

33. Out of 15.5 million Asian students, only 1.7 million drop out of college.

College dropout rate: Black

34. 6.1 million college dropouts are Black.

35. 20.2% of Black people drop out of college.

College dropout rate: Hispanic

36. 6.9 million of college dropouts are Hispanic.

37. 16.17% of Hispanics drop out of college.

College dropout rate: White

38. 17.16% of White people drop out of college.

39. There are 27,203,000 White college dropouts in the US.

College dropout rate: American Indian/Alaska Native

40. American Indian/Alaska Natives have a 45.1% dropout rate, which is the highest among ethnic demographics. (Education Data Initiative).

College dropout rate among parents

41. In 2021, 18% of children living in households in which at least one parent had attended some college but did not receive a degree. This is equivalent to 14 million children.

42. Children with at least one college dropout parent are more likely to live in poverty (21.3%) than children with a parent who has completed a bachelor’s degree or higher (4.3%).

43. In 2021, Asian children were the most likely to live in households with at least one college-educated parent (71%), while Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native children were the least likely (23 – 25%).

College dropout rate among two-parent households

44. In two-parent households, 14.8% of parents have dropped out of college, compared to 24.5% of single-parent families.

45. Children with at least one college dropout parent in two-parent households by race:

RacePercentage of children with at least one college dropout parent
White13.7%
Black19.2%
Hispanic18.3%
Asian6.7%
Pacific Islander24.3%
American Indian/Alaska Native26.6%
Two or more races14.7%

College dropout rate among single-parent households

RacePercentage of children whose parent dropped out of college
White24.8%
Black28.2%
Hispanic21.2%
Asian15.4%
Pacific Islander27.1%
American Indian/Alaska Native28.3%
Two or more races27.3%

College dropout rate among parents of children living in poverty

46. 21% of children living in poverty have at least one parent who has dropped out of college.

RacePercentage of children in households living in poverty with a college dropout parent
White18.2%
Black32%
Hispanic19.3%
Asian16.9%
American Indian/Alaska Native12.2%
Two or more races11%

College dropout rate among people with disabilities

47. There are an estimated number of 42.5 million Americans with disabilities. (Pew Research Center).

48. 5.53% or 2,351,000 people with disabilities in the US are college dropouts.

Reasons why students drop out of college

49. A variety of surveys shed light on different reasons that college dropouts leave college, citing financial, academic, and personal factors in dropping out of college.

50. According to a study by StraighterLine and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, the three primary reasons they left their institutions were finances (42%), family reasons or commitments (32%), and that it was not the right fit (30%).

College dropout rate: Financial Factors

51. Among older persons, the primary reason for dropping out of college was finances. (NSCRS).

52. An Intelligentsia survey of 1,250 students shows that 29% of respondents will not return to college due to rising costs of living.

53. 31% drop out of college want to take advantage of the labor market and find jobs as workers are in high demand.

54. 25% of college dropouts leave college due to tuition costs and less than 25% of college dropouts leave college as they have to financially support their family. (Intelligentsia).

College dropout rate: Academic Factors

55. Intelligentsia’s survey shows that 31% of respondents quit college as they’re not sure what to study.

56. Over 26% of respondents drop out of college due to poor academic performance.

College dropout rate: Personal Factors

57. Traditional-age college students (18 to 22) are less likely to cite finances as a reason for leaving college. They are more likely to state that the reason is “Not the Right Fit.

58. Other reasons for quitting include mental and physical health issues and the impact of COVID-19 on college life. (World Economic Forum).

Effects of college dropout rate

Impact of college dropout on individuals

59. The median annual earnings of full-time workers aged 25 and over who dropped out of college is $39,900.

60. Those who complete an associate’s degree earn an average of $41,000, and those with a bachelor’s degree or higher earn an average of $91,000.

61. Male college dropouts earn about 35.3% less than male college graduates.

62. The median annual earnings for male college dropouts is $53,280, while male college graduates earn between $82,370 and $142,340 per year.

63. Female college dropouts also earn about 33.1% less than female college graduates.

64. On average, female college dropouts earn $41,190 per year, while female college graduates earn between $61,580 and $100,460 per year.

Impact of the college dropout rate on the economy

65. The unemployment rate for people between 25 to 64 years old who’ve dropped out of college is 6.4%, while the unemployment rate for people who complete at least a bachelor’s degree is 3.6%.

66. This is true for both men (4.8%) and women (5.9%).

67. Institutions lose $16.5 billion in tuition revenue from students who drop out. (Education Data Initiative).

68. College dropouts with student loans are four times more likely to stop making payments on their loans than college graduates with student loans. (Education Data Initiative).

Top occupations of people who drop out of college

Occupation groupsPercentage of college dropoutsMaleFemale
Sales and office occupations20.7%19.7%21.2%
Service occupations18.5%18.1%18.8%
Production, transportation, and material moving18%18.1%17.6%
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance15.1%15.0%16.1%
Other education, training, and library workers11.9%3.8%5.9%
Management, business, and financial operations11.6%11.9%11.4%

Famous people who dropped out of college

In general, college dropouts make significantly less than their college graduate counterparts. But some exceptional individuals defied this trend and became wildly successful despite dropping out of college.

Here are some examples of famous people who dropped out of college and showed that success can take unexpected turns:

Steven Spielberg

Jesse Grant/Getty Images

The legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg dropped out of California State University, Long Beach, to pursue a career in the film industry. He would go on to direct and produce some of the most iconic movies in cinematic history, including “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan”, earning multiple Academy Awards.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak

Apple Computer, Inc.

The leading visionaries behind Apple, Inc. had also taken unexpected turns in their path to success. Steve Jobs was a Reed College student who dropped out in 1972. He then became the co-founder of the global tech giant, alongside Steve Wozniak.

Steve Wozniak dropped out of the University of California, Berkeley, before his fourth year of schooling. He eventually returned more than a decade later and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1986.

Denzel Washington

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Before becoming a renowned Hollywood actor, Denzel Washington left Fordham University to pursue acting, ultimately winning multiple Academy Awards.

Tiger Woods

Jerry Coli/Dreamstime.com

Golfing sensation Tiger Woods left Stanford University after two years despite being on a golf scholarship to turn professional. He then went on to win more than a dozen major championships, becoming one of the most successful golfers in history.

James Cameron

1997 Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation/Paramount Pictures Corporation

The award-winning filmmaker dropped out of California State University, Fullerton. He then would go on to direct some of the highest-grossing movies in history, including Titanic and Avatar. 

Learn more about other college statistics:

Sources

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (2022) Some College, No Credential Student Outcomes

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (2022) Completing College: National and State Report

National Center for Education Statistics – Digest of Education Statistics, 2021 – Introduction

National Center for Education Statistics – Number of persons age 18 and over, by highest level of educational attainment, sex, race/ethnicity, and age: 2021 

National Center for Education Statistics – Median annual earnings, number, and percentage of full-time year-round workers age 25 and over, by highest level of educational attainment and sex: Selected years, 1990 through 2020 

National Center for Education Statistics – Total number of persons 25 to 64 years old, number with disabilities, and percentage with disabilities, by highest level of educational attainment and other selected characteristics: 2010 and 2021 

Unemployment rates of persons 16 to 64 years old, by age group and highest level of educational attainment

Pew Research Center – 8 facts about Americans with disabilities

Education Data Initiative – College Dropout Rates

World Economic Forum – More students are dropping out of college in the US – here’s why

Denzel Washington | Biography, Movies, Macbeth, Oscar, & Facts | Britannica 

Steve Jobs | Biography, Education, Apple, & Facts | Britannica 

Steve Wozniak | Biography & Facts | Britannica 

Tiger Woods | Biography, Majors, Masters, Leg Injury, & Facts | Britannica 

Steven Spielberg | Biography, Movies, West Side Story, & Facts | Britannica 

James Cameron | Biography, Movies, & Facts | Britannica 

College dropout rate frequently asked questions

How many people drop out of college in the US?

39 to 43 million students drop out of college each year.

What percent of college students drop out?

Approximately 40% of college students drop out every year.

How does college dropout affect individual earnings?

College dropouts earn significantly less than college graduates, with median annual earnings of $39,900 compared to $91,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

What are the main factors contributing to college dropout rates?

The top reasons for dropping out of college include financial constraints, family commitments, poor academic performance, uncertainty about the field of study, and personal issues.

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