Leaving Late: Understanding the extent and predictors of college late departure

Z. Mabel
T.A. Britton


Research on college dropout has largely addressed early exit from school, even though a large share of students who do not earn degrees leave after their second year. In this paper, we offer new evidence on the scope of college late departure. Using administrative data from Florida and Ohio, we conduct an event history analysis of the dropout process as a function of credit attainment. Our results indicate that late departure is widespread, particularly at two- and open-admission four-year institutions. We estimate that 14 percent of all entrants to college and one-third of all dropouts completed at least three- quarters of the credits that are typically required to graduate before leaving without a degree. Our results also indicate that the probability of departure spikes as students near the finish line. Amidst considerable policy attention towards improving student outcomes in college, our findings point to promising new avenues for intervention to increase postsecondary attainment.


Postsecondary completion, College dropout, Late departure, Human capital


The authors of this paper seek to study the extent of non-first year college students (sophomores, juniors, or seniors) dropping out. They find that a large portion of dropouts actually occur in later years of college, with one-third of dropouts earning three-fourths of the needed credits to graduate. This trend is especially prevalent at two-year community colleges and open enrollment college and among students who were not academically prepared for the challenges of college. The authors suggest that four-year colleges that have introduced associate degrees have increased degree attainment and that targeted intervention programs could help retain more students.

APA Citation

Mabel, Z., & Britton, T. A. (2018). Leaving late: Understanding the extent and predictors of college late departure. Social science research, 69, 34-51.

About the Study

Links to Article https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C50&q=9.%09Leaving+late%3A+Understanding+the+extent+and+predictors+of+college+late+departure+&btnG=
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Social Science Research
Type of Research Quantitative
Research Design
Intervention/Areas of Study Student support
Level of Analysis
Specific Populations Examined Undergraduates
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest
Specific Course or Program Characteristics
Outcome Variables of Interest
Student Sample Size 500 +
Citing Articles https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=12473722952008211501&as_sdt=5,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en