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College Persistence Linked to Higher Student Readiness, ACT Report Shows

A new report out from ACT Inc. finds that students at the greatest risk of dropping out of college are those who scored on the lower end on the ACT college-readiness assessment. It also concludes that going to a less-selective college and coming from a family with parents who had less education negatively affects college-persistence rates.

The study from the Iowa City, Iowa-based testing organization followed the college outcomes of students who took the ACT college-entrance exam in the class of 2012. This includes about 70 percent of students attending college in the fall of 2012.

Students with lower ACT scores were more likely than their higher-achieving peers to drop out of college before their second year of study, the report finds. Of the overall pool of college students analyzed, 16 percent dropped out of school after their freshman year. However, the dropout rate was 23 percent among students who earned an ACT composite score of between 16 and 19, and 34 percent among those who scored below a 16. Just 10 percent of students who got a score of 24 or higher left college after the first year. Nationwide, the average ACT score in 2012 was 21.1. A perfect ACT score is 36.

Aspirations of students played a role in persistence, as well. For the class of 2012, the students less likely to stay in college were those who entered with the goal of earning less than a bachelor's degree or those who went to a less-selective college. The more education students' parents received, the more likely they were to return to college their sophomore year, the report finds. Among students with ACT composite scores below 19, there is an 11 percentage-point difference in the dropout rate between first-generation college students and those whose parents earned a graduate degree. Lower-achieving students were also more apt to transfer to another institution after their first year in college, according to the research.

"Student preferences matter when choosing a college," said Steve Kappler, an assistant vice president at ACT Inc. "Parents and students should strongly consider those preferences when comparing institutions. Similarly, colleges should pay attention to student preference data in their advising and retention efforts. If they don't, that student who was tough to recruit is likely to be the one who doesn't stay."

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