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60 Percent of All College Students Graduate with a Bachelor’s, Associate or Certificate Degree within Eight Years

by NSC Blog | Feb 12, 2019 | Clearinghouse News, Research Reports, Research Services, Signature Reports |

At four-year public colleges, 69 percent of all starters graduated in eight years.

The nation’s postsecondary students who started college in 2010 at a two-year or a four-year college pushed their combined overall completion rate—to earn either a bachelors, associate or certificate—to 60.4 percent within eight years, according to a new report released today by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

This is a 5.6 percentage point jump, compared to the six-year completion rate of 54.8 percent when the same students’ outcomes were measured in 2016.

“Many students in college today are taking longer to graduate, particularly those who transfer, attend multiple schools, or find themselves stopping out or dropping to part-time while working or caring for family members,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the Research Center. “This report shows that to be particularly true for minority and under-represented students, who we observe narrowing the gaps in completion rates over time, compared to white students.”

The completion rate for Hispanic students who started at four-year public institutions increased 8.3 percentage points, from 55 percent at the end of six years to 63.3 percent at the end of eight years. This was the sharpest completion increase of any race and ethnicity group.

Figure 6 reveals that the Hispanic and Black student completion rate increased considerably for four-year public starters from six years to the end of eight years.

In response to the nationwide need for educational researchers to extend the time period for measuring graduation rates, the Research Center’s annual College Completions Signature Report series now includes an expanded examination of the eight-year completion outcomes as a supplemental feature. In addition, because so many students switch between part-time and full-time status over time, these rates count both part-time and full-time students together.

“The increase in completion rates—especially by Latino students—reflects the pace of progress needed to address the continued equity gaps in degree attainment,” said Deborah A. Santiago, CEO, Excelencia in Education. “The metrics also reinforce the need for metrics that better represent the persistence and completion efforts by students with diverse pathways—and the institutions serving these students.”

The second largest six- to eight-year completion rate increase at four-year public colleges was observed for Asian students, jumping from 71.7 to 79.2 percent; closely followed by Black students, from 45.9 percent to 53.1 percent; and then white students, from 67.2 percent to 73.1 percent.

Among students who started at two-year public colleges, Asian students’ completion rate increased 11 percentage points, from 43.8 percent at the end of six years to 54.5 percent at the end of eight years. This was followed by Hispanic students from 33 percent to 40.3 percent; white students from 45.1 percent to 51.1 percent; and black students from 30.9 percent to 33 percent.

Perhaps surprisingly, comparing all students who started at two-year publics to their four-year public peers, the report found fairly similar six to eight year completion gains to earning a degree. The completion rate for four-year public starters increased by 6.4 percentage points, from 62.4 percent at the end of six years to 68.8 percent at the end of eight years, while the rate for two-year public starters, earning either an associate or bachelor’s degree, increased by 6.0 points, from 39.3 percent to 45.3 percent.

“These data show the importance of measuring the variety of ways a diverse set of students use the higher education system in the United States,” said Kent A. Phillippe, associate vice president, American Association of Community Colleges. “Outcomes that truncate time to completion or focus on a single institution often underestimate the extent of student success—particularly the diverse population of students who attend community colleges.”

Men and women also gained equally with the two additional years. Completion rates increased approximately six percentage points for each. However, men are not keeping up with women. The eight-year completion rate for men, at 57.4 percent, is below the six-year completion rate for women at 58.2 percent. For men, the six-year completion rate is 51.4 percent.

“These data show the importance of measuring the variety of ways a diverse set of students use the higher education system in the United States,”

Kent A. Phillippe
Associate Vice President, American Association of Community Colleges

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