What We're Learning In the Era of COVID-19 Part 2: College Persistence

In the first part of our KIPP series on college in the era of COVID-19, we looked at college enrollment and matriculation. In part two, we’re looking at the other side of the coin: persistence.

College Persistence During The Pandemic

First, the good news: overall, students who were already in college when the pandemic hit appear to be staying the course. Nationwide, there was a decline in year-over-year college persistence rates from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 school year, but it was smaller than the drop in first-time college matriculation numbers over the same time period. As with so many other effects of the pandemic, declines in college persistence rates were most pronounced among students of color and those from families experiencing financial hardships. And where students were enrolled mattered too; according to the College Board, less-selective colleges and universities saw greater drops in persistence from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 school year.

These results mirror what we’ve seen among our 15,000 KIPP alumni in college. From the High School Class of 2019 to the High School Class of 2020, KIPP’s first- to second-year college persistence rates dropped 5 percentage points, and second- to third-year persistence rates dropped by 2 percentage points. Persistence rates dropped the most, at 9 percent, at the least-selective colleges and universities, while students at the most selective institutions stayed enrolled at much higher rates. We also saw that declines were more prevalent at lower ACT score bands, and those most affected were Latinx males.

For first year persistence, we see similar rates of students remaining at the same college. Interestingly, the decline is driven by fewer students transferring. Graphs of first to second year persistence for the high schools classes of 2017-2020.


While these declines are much smaller than what we saw with college matriculation, it’s clear that our KIPP alumni in college are feeling the effects of the pandemic as well. Working side-by-side with students and families, KIPP has swung into action to ensure that as many of our alumni as possible are able to persist to graduation day or complete training programs.

How We're Responding

Alumni advisors supported alumni in the context of a challenging year — virtual academics, health issues, economic concerns, and a national racial reckoning. We supported our alumni as people navigating both the pandemic and continued racial injustice in both 1:1 and group settings.

The KIPP Bridge Fund launched in the summer of 2020 was instrumental in assisting our students to persist in college. We have distributed nearly $1 million in microgrants to KIPP alumni and 91 percent remain enrolled in college or have earned their degrees. Here are just a few of their stories:

  •  *Mariam needed reliable, high-speed internet access to be able to attend class and complete her assignments. Due to COVID-19 precautions, the facilities on campus where she could previously get internet access, such as the library, were inaccessible. Having lost her job due to the pandemic, Mariam wasn’t able to afford high-speed internet access on her own. She asked for a KIPP Bridge Fund grant to help pay for hotspot services on her phone, allowing her to continue attending classes online.
  • Janet is pursuing a nursing degree. When the pandemic hit, elective surgeries at the healthcare facility where she worked were significantly reduced, and her hours got cut in half. Her mother also temporarily lost her job due to the pandemic. Janet requested support from the Bridge Fund to pay for groceries and other household expenses, allowing her to continue her studies until her mother could return to work.
  • Jamal is studying criminal science, and typically saves up well in advance to buy textbooks for each semester. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, he had less work availability than usual, and he had to use the money he’d saved to help with unexpected family and household expenses. He asked for help from the KIPP Bridge Fund to purchase textbooks for the spring semester.

*Names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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What We’re Learning In the Era of COVID-19: College Enrollment

View part one of the college and COVID-19 series.