On Average, Students Not on Track to Complete College in 5 Years

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On Average, Students Not on Track to Complete College in 5 Years

Students Not Attempting or Earning Enough Credits Each Year

HERNDON, VA(AUGUST 2, 2022) – On average, a full-time student does not attempt enough credits to complete a bachelor’s degree within four years or earn enough credits to complete a bachelor’s degree within five years, according to the Postsecondary Data Partnership (PDP) Insights Report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

“This is the first ever report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that uses actual credit information and focuses on early momentum metrics such as first-year credit accumulation rate and credit completion ratio,” said Dr. Afet Dundar, Director, Equity in Research and Analytics at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and one of the authors of the report. “College and university administrators and practitioners can use these metrics to design effective and timely support for those students who need it the most, while students are still enrolled. Otherwise, students will continue to fall behind academically and financially by not completing college as soon as possible.”

The 2022 PDP Insights report focuses on two primary metrics: students’ first year credit completion ratio (CCR) and credit accumulation rate (CAR). The CCR is the ratio of credits earned to credits attempted. The CAR measures students’ timely accumulation of college credits by identifying what share of students surpassed specific credit-hour thresholds within a given period.

Other key findings include:

  • Only 51% of full-time students earned 24 or more credit hours in their first year. Less than a third (28%) earned 30 or more hours of credit. The average full-time student does not even attempt enough credits to complete a bachelor’s degree in four years. Across their first year of study, the average full-time student attempted fewer than 27 credits and earned fewer than 22.
  • Students earn roughly 75% of the credits they attempt, on average, students earn nine credit hours for every 12 credits they attempt. However, this rate varies widely by race/ethnicity, enrollment intensity, college readiness, the degree sought, and institutional type. For example, Black males earn the equivalent of one 3-credit hour course less than their White and Asian peers across their first year of study.
  • The largest gaps between students attempting and earning credits are across dimensions of gender, race/ethnicity, and enrollment intensity. For example, among women, the percent of Asian students who earned 30 or more credits in their first year was more than double the share of their Black/African American and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander peers.
  • Adult learners (over age 24) realized consistently lower CARs and CCRs in their first year compared to their younger counterparts, even after considering enrollment intensity.

Students in this analysis are first-time, degree-seeking students entering a PDP-participating institution in the 2019-20 cohort. This report’s cohort consists of 905,689 unique student enrollments at 342 unique postsecondary institutions. Institutions actively opt-in to the PDP. No findings in this report should be considered representative of the national population of students. These students started at a PDP institution in fall 2019, winter 2019, spring 2020, or summer 2020 and were seeking an undergraduate certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, there are approximately 16 million students enrolled nationwide in higher education.

About the Postsecondary Data Partnership

The Postsecondary Data Partnership (PDP) is a service of the National Student Clearinghouse established in 2017 to empower institutions with more comprehensive data, easier analysis, centralized reporting functions, and interactive visualizations to help understand, improve, and communicate student momentum, outcomes, and equity.

Data provided by participating PDP institutions are unique from existing national public and private sources. PDP data capture rich information on students, including demographics, high school performance, college placement, and enrollment and degree completion, and combine these data points with financial aid information, including eligibility for Pell Grants, and detailed course-takingrecords, including courses enrolled, grades, credits attempted, credits earned, and more.

These data allow for both the unique examination of many early momentum metrics—such as students’ credit accumulation and course completion—as well as the exploration of equity gaps across multiple dimensions, such as students’ gender, race/ethnicity, enrollment intensity, college placement level, and more. For more information, go to studentclearinghouse.org/solutions/ed-insights/pdp/.

About the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse. The Research Center collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations as part of a national effort to better inform education leaders and policymakers. Through accurate longitudinal data outcomes reporting, the Research Center enables better educational policy decisions leading to improved student outcomes. To learn more, visit nscresearchcenter.org.


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