Returning Students Continue to Have Much Lower Completion Rates Than First-Timers, Study Shows

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff 

Completion rates among non-first-time students remain significantly lower than those of first-time students, according to recent data analysis from the National Student Clearinghouse. These findings indicate a greater need for support if the U.S. is going to achieve its goal of greater college attainment rates.

The analysis was conducted in cooperation between the Clearinghouse, the American Council on Education (ACE), InsideTrack, NASPA’s Research and Policy Institute, and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA).

The data, based on an analysis of a cohort of 4.5 million students, shows that only 33.7 percent of non-first-time (NFT) students who re-enrolled in college between 2005 and 2008 completed their degree, compared to 54.1 percent of first-time students. In total, about 2.5 million nontraditional students enrolled but did not complete their degrees between 2005 and 2008. Notably, NFT students who combine full-time and part-time enrollment while in school have a 9 percent higher completion rate than first-time students who do so.

The analysis also shows that six- to eight-year completion rates are about twice as high for NFT students at four-year private schools than two-year public schools, 52.5 percent to 27 percent. Completion rates for NFT students at public, two-year institutions – which enroll the largest number of NFT students -- were 26 percent lower than first-time students, while there was a 27 percent difference in completion rates between the two groups at both four-year public and four-year private institutions.

Completion rates among NFT students also vary by state, with larger states like New York, Texas and Florida seeing rates between 37 percent and 40 percent. One of the states with the lowest completion rates (24 percent) among NFT students is California, which accounts for about one in five NFT enrollments. The highest completion rate is in the District of Columbia, where 57 percent of NFT students complete. However, the District accounts for only 0.1 percent of NFT student enrollments. 

Additional analysis and the findings of a second cohort of 7 million students re-enrolled between 2008 and 2013 will be released in January 2015, according to the report.


Publication Date: 10/15/2014

Ellen F | 10/25/2014 11:39:30 AM

The link is to a commercial site. Is there a report available online?

Raymond G | 10/16/2014 3:10:01 PM

Possible link?
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