An Increasing Number of New Graduates Already Have Degrees

Posted By Eliana Osborn on November 5, 2015 at 3:10 pm
An Increasing Number of New Graduates Already Have Degrees

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s latest report highlights some surprising information about recent college graduates: 29% of those receiving a bachelor’s degree already have some kind of higher education credential.  Whether that means getting a bachelor’s degree after an associate degree or continuing education after earning a certificate, the proportion of students adding on to existing education is increasing.

From the 2010-11 school year to 2013-14, the number of “credential stackers” increased from 25 to 29 percent.  However, during both 2013-14 and the previous academic year, the overall number of graduates decreased nationwide.  With first-time student enrollment down, repeat customers looking to continue their education are an important population.

The New College Graduates Report from NSC Research Center notes that there are gender based differences when it comes to who is earning degrees.  While women still earn more college degrees than men, the gap between them has shrunk: male degrees are up 2.2% over four years and female numbers are down 0.4%.

1.9 million associate and bachelor’s degrees were awarded in 2013-14 to students without prior degrees.  816,000 repeat degrees were awarded that year – up from 665,000 just four years earlier.  All ages of students and all kinds of colleges have been part of this shift, with the biggest segment being those in their 40’s.

In a press release, Doug Shapiro, Executive Research Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center explained the trend of stacking credentials. “Students are increasingly starting with a postsecondary certificate before earning a degree, and starting with an associates’ before earning a bachelor’s degree. Knowing how many actual new college graduates we are producing is critical to national efforts to increase the number of adults with a postsecondary credential.”

With increasing costs at four year colleges, starting with an associate degree from a smaller school like a community college makes a lot of financial sense.  Many students do a shorter program to earn certificates or credentials, enabling them to get higher paying jobs.  Once that first hurdle is overcome, they may be ready to pursue even more education.

Over the four years covered in the report, more than 8 million college degrees were awarded to new students, with an additional 3 million going to those who already had some kind of degree or credential.  The need for higher education in order to compete in the job market is clear.  More and more, career growth will require continuing education – even from those who already have degrees.

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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