As of 1998, roughly two-thirds of students who had first enrolled in a 4-year college in 199596 were still enrolled in the same college (including 6 percent who had left and returned; figure B). One-fifth had transferred to another institution, and 13 percent had left and not returned.
The level of college students’ high school curricula was strongly related to their persistence in postsecondary education. This was true both for maintaining enrollment at their initial institution (institutional retention) and, if they transferred, staying on track to a bachelor’s degree.4 For example, 79 percent of students who had participated in rigorous high school academic curricula were continuously enrolled in their initial institution (including 1 percent who had attained a bachelor’s degree; figure C). In contrast, 62 percent and 55 percent, respectively, of those in mid-level curricula or core curricula or lower were continuously enrolled in their initial institution. Students in rigorous curricula also were less likely to transfer from their first institution (13 percent) than those who participated in less than rigorous curricula, whether in mid-level or core or lower curricula (23 percent of both groups transferred).
The difference between levels of academic curricula was especially notable with respect to staying on track to a bachelor’s degree (i.e., continuous enrollment in any 4-year institution). As the level of academic curricula increased, so did the proportion of undergraduates who stayed on track (figure D). As of 1998, the vast majority (87 percent) of those who had participated in rigorous high school academic curricula were still on track to a bachelor’s degree, compared with 71 percent of those in mid-level curricula, and 62 percent of those who completed core curricula or lower. Correspondingly, the proportion of those who had left postsecondary education and did not return declined with each successive level of academic curriculum (from 17 percent to 10 percent to 4 percent).