College Completion Rate Offers Dismal Results

College Completion Rate Offers Dismal Results
  • Opening Intro -

    Millions of people begin college each fall, but the completion rate for such students is downright dismal.

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Indeed, only 55 percent of students who entered college in Fall 2008 had graduated by May 2014, representing a full percentage point drop over the previous year according to the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit partner to the nation’s colleges and universities.

The NSC took a look at students who entered college at the height of the recession, a time when many were observing the dismal job market and decided to pursue a degree instead. Although the drop in the completion rate may not seem significant, it also comes as colleges, universities and other educators have been working diligently to encourage students to finish their education.

Measuring student cohorts by six-year outcomes instead of four or five years takes into consideration delays that many students encounter should they transfer colleges, cut back on their schooling to balance work, family and educational needs, and other factors. Notably, the number of students who first enrolled in Fall 2008 rose by 300,000 to 2.7 million over the previous year, reflecting the desire of many to avoid the job market and to obtain the skills necessary to compete later.

NSC Signature Report

The NSC’s college completion Signature Report found that full-time students are much more likely to complete their education than part-time and older students. Of the cohort, 41.6 percent were enrolled in four-year public institutions with another 36.8 percent enrolled at two-year public schools. Four-year private nonprofit colleges and universities attracted 17.4 percent of students followed by 4 percent at for-profit four-year institutions. A very small number of students also enrolled at two-year nonprofit and two-year for-profit institutions.

The report found that three-quarters of all students who first enrolled in Fall 2008 were of the typical college starting age: under 20 and most likely a recent high school graduate. Adults ranging in age from 20 to 24 composed 6.4 percent of the cohort while those older than 24 represented 16.6 percent of the group.

More than half of the students were mixed enrollment students, that is they were enrolled full-time some semesters and part-time in other semesters. Some 39.6 percent were enrolled exclusively full time and another 6.7 percent were enrolled exclusively part time.

College Completion Rates

After six years, the report found that 66.4 percent of students enrolled full time completed their education at their starting institution. Another 10.8 percent secured their degrees at a different school while 3.2 percent were still enrolled. Some 19.6 percent of full-time students were no longer enrolled. Thus, 77.2 percent of full-time students who started their education in Fall 2008 received a degree or a certificate within six years.

The completion rate changed sharply for students who were enrolled part-time or were considered “mixed enrollment.” Only 17.4 percent of part timers had secured their degree at their starting institution with another 3.6 percent completing their degree elsewhere. Another 10.4 percent were still enrolled, but a whopping 68.5 percent were no longer enrolled.

Among mixed enrollment students, 27.3 percent obtained their degrees from their starting institution with another 15.7 percent completing their work elsewhere for a 43 percent graduation rate. However, another 23.7 percent were still enrolled while a full one-third or 33.3 percent were no longer enrolled.

The Best Completion Rates

Overall, the completion rate for students at four-year public (62.8 percent) and four-year private institutions (73.6 percent) were the highest. Notably, the completion rate at four-year for-profit institutions was just 38.4 percent, representing a sharp drop from 42.3 percent a year earlier. However, enrollment rates at such institutions also increased by 35 percent from 2007 to 2008, perhaps demonstrating students’ desire to enroll and escape the recession.

Some of the drop in the college completion rate may be attributed to the improving economy. In 2008, jobs were scarce but within a few years employment numbers were up significantly. Some students who attended college with the intent to secure a degree, may have left school as their job prospects improved.

The High Cost of Higher Education

The NSC’s signature report will likely receive close scrutiny from interested parties with public policy makers weighing in. One of the overarching challenges for all students is college cost, something that can be reduced by completing a FAFSA after the first of the year.

See AlsoFAFSA: Apply Early for Financial Assistance

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