College Completion Rates Continue to Rise, Yet Almost Half of Students Aren’t Graduating

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

While college completion rates have continued to rise year-over-year, almost half of all students are still failing to earn a credential, according to new data included in a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The center’s seventh annual report showed that for the cohort of students that entered into some form of postsecondary education in 2012, the overall completion rate was 58.3 percent—a 1.5 percentage point jump from the 2011 cohort. This figure, while it did not come with as steep an increase as it did for the previous cohort, represented the highest rate since this report has been published. However, it also indicates that 41.7 percent of students, across all institution types, are not completing degrees.  

Broken down by institution type, the report found that those who began their higher education at four-year institutions saw a completion rate of 67.8 percent, and those who started at two-year schools experienced a completion rate of 39.4 percent. “Exclusively full-time students” at four-year institutions saw a completion rate of 83.6 percent, according to the report.

The number of students who earned a degree at a four-year institution after attending a two-year school grew by 1.1 percentage points from the 2011 cohort to 15.8 percent, according to the report. The completion rate for students who attended the same institution also grew from the previous year’s cohort—46.9 percent of completions occured at the institution a student started in, which represented a 1.5 percentage point jump. As this trend held true at both four- and two-year institutions, according to the report it “not only reflects the continuing shift towards a more traditional student population, but perhaps more importantly, the improving student retention and advising methods of post-secondary institutions.”

The report also found that while white and Asian students completed college at much higher rates than black and Hispanic students, the latter experienced strong increases in completion rates. Black students saw an increase of 1.6 percentage points when compared to the previous year’ cohort, a jump to 47.6 percent, and Hispanics students saw an increase of 1.7 percentage points to 57.4 percent.

The center wrote that this report shows the “effectiveness of student retention efforts at both four-year and two-year institutions.”

“Specifically, more two-year starters subsequently completed a four-year credential and overall, more students completed a credential at the starting institution in the 2012 cohort than the previous 2011 cohort. This indicates that institutions have become better able to meet student academic goals and expectations, which ultimately result in stronger retention and completion outcomes,” according to the report.


Publication Date: 12/21/2018

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