Completion Rates Report Shows Less Students Completing Degrees in Fewer Than 6 Years

Posted By Eliana Osborn on December 9, 2015 at 3:56 pm
Completion Rates Report Shows Less Students Completing Degrees in Fewer Than 6 Years

Students get six years from when they begin college to earn a bachelor’s degree to count toward completion rates.  For the group who started in 2009, the 2015 report is out and it doesn’t look good.  2.1% fewer students completed college in six years, a rate of only 52.9%.

The completion rate is dropping, rather than improving, and the rate of decline is increasing.  Many initiatives from the Obama Administration aim to improve completion rates, but it is too early to know if they are helping.

Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates is the fourth annual report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.  They tracked the fall 2009 group of freshman, with data on over 95% of American students.  Less than one percent of students who began in 2009 were still enrolled and working toward a bachelor’s degree in 2015.  That leaves 46% of the cohort who started but did not finish college.

Completion problems are affecting all kinds of students, despite age or gender or socioeconomic status.  Researchers note that the 2009 cohort faced recession issues during their years of study which may explain some of the graduation declines.  “These 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,” the report said. “Indeed, one might easily conclude that without them the declines could have been even worse for particular types of students or institutions, given the demographic and economic forces at play.”

Other findings from Completing College include an 8% increase in the number of students between 2008 and 2009, and a 24% increase in students over the age of 24.  This tracks with other findings on employment difficulties in 2009 sending more young adults back to school rather than to the workforce.

There were small increases in the proportion of students enrolling at the community college level, as well as those attending on a part-time basis.  According to the executive summary, “older students and exclusively full-time students experienced some of the largest drops in completion rates.”  Older students with past higher education experience had a better completion rate than those with ‘delayed entry’ who started college for the first time in 2009.

Overall, completion rates for private universities are higher than at public ones.  Though, both types of schools had decreases of similar size.  For-profit institutions have dramatically worse numbers; more than 56% of students leave without finishing a degree or certificate.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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