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
|State||Percentage share of all college dropouts||Total number of college dropouts|
**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 group||College dropout number||Percentage of all college dropouts|
|18 to 19 years old||2,210,000||5.11%|
|20 to 24 years old||7,658,000||17.71%|
|25 to 29 years old||3,891,000||8.99%|
|30 to 34 years old||3,438,000||7.95%|
|35 to 39 years old||3,083,000||7.13%|
|40 to 49 years old||5,362,000||12.40%|
|50 to 59 years old||5,750,000||13.29%|
|60 to 64 years old||3,197,000||7.39%|
|65 years old and above||8,734,000||20.19%|
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:
|Race||Percentage of children with at least one college dropout parent|
|American Indian/Alaska Native||26.6%|
|Two or more races||14.7%|
College dropout rate among single-parent households
|Race||Percentage of children whose parent dropped out of college|
|American Indian/Alaska Native||28.3%|
|Two or more races||27.3%|
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.
|Race||Percentage of children in households living in poverty with a college dropout parent|
|American Indian/Alaska Native||12.2%|
|Two or more races||11%|
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 groups||Percentage of college dropouts||Male||Female|
|Sales and office occupations||20.7%||19.7%||21.2%|
|Production, transportation, and material moving||18%||18.1%||17.6%|
|Natural resources, construction, and maintenance||15.1%||15.0%||16.1%|
|Other education, training, and library workers||11.9%||3.8%||5.9%|
|Management, business, and financial operations||11.6%||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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
- International students in the US
- How many teachers are there in the US
- Average high school GPA
- Average private school tuition
- Average cost of a Master's degree
- College graduation rates
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
College dropout rate frequently asked questions
39 to 43 million students drop out of college each year.
Approximately 40% of college students drop out every year.
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.
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.
Gail holds a degree in International Development and has a strong background in research and writing. Her work focuses on exploring topics related to development, including education.