Clearinghouse Data Shows Continued Decline in Completion Among Post-Recession Students

Quick Takeaways:

  • While the Great Recession ended in June 2009, there was a continued decline in completion among students in the fall 2009 cohort across institutions types, student ages, and enrollment intensities.
  • The overall national six-year completion rate for the fall 2009 cohort of students was 52.9 percent and the number of students in this cohort who left college without completing a credential or continuing on at another institution in the sixth year increased by 153,000 students.
  • The results of the analysis “show that the Great Recession continued to affect student attainment rates even for the cohort that entered college after the normal end of the recession.”

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

While the Great Recession was considered to be over in 2009, students and colleges are still feeling its impact on enrollment and attainment and six-year completion rates, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC).

The most recent Signature Report from NSC analyzes the six-year outcomes for the fall 2009 cohort of students – more than 2.9 million students – who started college following what many believed to be the official end of the Great Recession in June 2009. The overall national six-year completion rate for this cohort of students was 52.9 percent, down 2.1 percentage points from the fall 2008 cohort. While there was a lower completion rate for the fall 2009 cohort, the group did produce a higher number of total graduates six years later (about 71,000 more students), which NSC contributed to fact that the cohort’s size was eight percent larger than the fall 2008 cohort.

The rate at which fall 2009 students were no longer enrolled during the final year of the study period was 33 percent, up 2.7 percentage points from 30.3 percent for the fall 2008 cohort. The number of students in the fall 2009 cohort who left college without completing a credential or continuing on at another institution in the sixth year also increased by 153,000 students.

NSC also looked at six-year completion rates broken down by student age and enrollment intensities and found that all student populations showed declines in attainment, with the largest declines occurring among older students and exclusively full-time students.

Compared to the fall 2008 cohort, those in the fall 2009 cohort who delayed entering college until they were between ages 20 and 24 experienced the greatest decline in completion rates, dropping from 38.3 percent in 2008 to 33.6 percent in 2009. Adult learners (students 24 and older) also experienced a decline in completion rates, dropping from 42.1 percent in 2008 to 39.2 percent in 2009. Traditional-age students (ages 20 and younger) saw the smallest decrease in completion rates, dropping only 0.75 percentage points from 59.3 in 2008 to 58.6 percent in 2009. When looking at enrollment intensity, the delayed-entry students who were enrolled exclusively full-time showed the largest decline – 9.2 percentage points – followed by full-time adult learners, who declined by 7.2 percent.

The data showed that completion rates declined at public and private four-year institutions, as well as at for-profit institutions and among students who started at two-year institutions.

At four-year public institutions, the completion rates dropped 1.7 percentage points between the fall 2008 cohort (62.9 percent) and the fall 2009 cohort (61.2 percent). Students in the delayed-entry group had the largest decline at these institutions (dropping from 50.7 percent in 2008 to 43.1 percent in 2009), followed by adult learners (from 45.9 percent in 2008 to 42.6 percent in 2009). Traditional students at four-year public schools had a decline in completion rates of less than one percentage point.

Similar declines in completion were seen at four-year private institutions where the fall 2009 cohort had a rate of 71.5 percent, a drop of 2.1 percentage points from 73.6 percent for the fall 2008 cohort. According to NSC, the decline “can almost exclusively be explained” by the drop in completion among older students, which saw a drop of 8.7 percentage points among delayed-entry students and 5 percentage points among adult learners. Traditional students saw a drop of only 0.6 percentage points.

Among four-year for-profit schools, the completion rate dropped to 32.8 percent for the fall 2009 cohort compared with 38.4 percent for the fall 2008 cohort. There was also a dramatic increase in the percentage of student who dropped out or stopped out without earning a credential from this sector, rising from 49.9 percent for the fall 2008 cohort to 56.1 percent for the fall 2009 cohort.

The completion rate for students who started at a two-year institution, regardless of whether they completed at that institution or went on to a four-year school, dropped slightly from 39.1 percent for the fall 2008 cohort to 38.1 percent for the fall 2009 cohort. The completion rate among students who started at a two-year school and transferred to a four-year school also declined by one percentage point, from 16.2 percent in 2008 to 15.1 percent in 2009.

A supplemental feature to the report looked at the eight-year outcomes for the fall 2007 cohort, which tracked their enrollment patterns through spring of this year. When the two extra years were factored in, 45 percent of the 2007 cohort completed at their starting institution, with an additional 16.8 percent completing at a different institution. Combined, this is a national completion rate of 61.8 percent, about a 5.8 percentage point increase in total completion from the six-year rate for this cohort.

The results of the analysis “show that the Great Recession continued to affect student attainment rates even for the cohort that entered college after the normal end of the recession,” NSC said in the report. However, the results “should not be taken as an indication that the considerable efforts to drive improvement in student outcomes at the institutional, state, and federal levels have been ineffective,” NSC continued, adding that the findings “reiterate the need for developing measures that capture the complexity of students’ postsecondary pathways.”

 

Publication Date: 11/23/2015


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