Decrease in First-Time College Graduates Over Age 25 Outweighs Increase in Younger Graduates, According to Newly Released Undergraduate Degree Earners Report
Findings Reflect Post-Recession College Enrollment Decline
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released today the Undergraduate Degree Earners Report, which differentiates between students earning their first postsecondary award and students earning additional undergraduate awards on top of ones earned in prior years.
According to the report, the number of students earning their first undergraduate degree in 2015-16 (first-time graduates) was 2,246,233, a decline of 1.4 percent compared to 2014-2015. The decline was driven primarily by first-time graduates age 25 and over.
Graph shows counts of students earning undergraduate degrees (bachelor’s and associates combined) in each academic year, disaggregated by age group.
In coming years, the number of high school graduates is projected to stagnate, presenting a challenge to efforts aimed at increasing the percentage of the adult population with a college credential. For such efforts, the findings of this report underscore the importance of increasing postsecondary attainment rates for adult learners.
Key findings include:
- First-time graduates (associate and bachelor’s degrees combined) in the 25 and over age group dropped 7.0 percent compared to the previous year, reflecting post-recession enrollment declines among older students. Since 2012-13, the number of first-time graduates in the 25 and over age group has declined by nearly 50,000.
- First-time graduates under the age of 25 saw continued growth in 2015-16, with their numbers having increased 1.2 percent in 2015-16. The number of first-time graduates under the age of 25 has increased by more than 98,000 since 2012-13.
- While the number of first-time graduates declined, the number of students earning their second or third undergraduate credential (graduates with prior awards) grew by 1.7 percent to 648,754.
- As a share of all undergraduate degree earners, first-time graduates declined from 78.1 percent to 77.6 percent in 2015-16. This continues a recent trend, in which the share of first-time graduates has dropped over half a percentage point per year since 2012-13.
The National Student Clearinghouse collects graduation information from its participating institutions via two data reporting services, Enrollment Reporting and DegreeVerify. These reporting institutions account for more than 96 percent of the nation’s Title IV, degree-granting enrollments and college graduations.
The data are highly current, because institutions make several data submissions per term. In addition, because the Clearinghouse receives data at the student level, an unduplicated headcount is reported, avoiding double-counting of students enrolled in more than one institution.