National College Completion Rates Continue to Decline
Graduation Rates for Current Freshman Class Expected to Climb
The 4th annual national college completion report offers a look at the six-year outcomes for students who began postsecondary education in fall 2009, the cohort that entered college as the Great Recession was ending. The report analyzes the various pathways students took toward degree completion, as well as the completion rates through May 2015 for the different student types who followed each pathway. Out of 2.9 million students enrolled, the overall national six-year completion rate for the fall 2009 in-coming students was 52.9 percent, a decline of 2.1 percentage points from the fall 2008 cohort. This is twice the rate of the decline observed in last year’s report.
“Given the recent scalable innovations in higher education, I expect that the six-year graduate rates for the most recent entering cohorts will be higher than those for the 2008 and 2009 cohorts.”
Dr. Vincent Tinto Distinguished University Professor Emeritus and the former Chair of the Higher Education Program, Syracuse University
“What we see in the six-year outcomes for the 2009 cohort is not surprising given the economic conditions of the time,” said Dr. Vincent Tinto, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus and the former Chair of the Higher Education Program, Syracuse University. “Even then, that cohort produced 71,000 more graduates than the 2008 cohort and the graduation rate of students who enrolled full-time in public four-year colleges was nearly 81 percent.” Despite the fall 2009 cohort’s lower rate of completion, the total number of graduates six years later increased because the in-coming class was much larger (eight percent) than that of fall 2008. Most of the increase in enrollment occurred among delayed entry students (20 percent) and adult learners (23 percent), rather than among traditional-age students (7 percent). Students enrolled exclusively full-time had completion rates nearly 31 percentage points higher than students with a mix of full-time and part-time enrollments. The declines may have felt discouraging to many, who wonder when national efforts to improve completion rates will begin to pay off. Tinto argues that those reforms did not have enough time to impact the 2009 cohort. “Given the recent scalable innovations in higher education, I expect that the six-year graduate rates for the most recent entering cohorts will be higher than those for the 2008 and 2009 cohorts,” Tinto said.
Six-Year Outcomes for Students Who Started at Four-Year Public Institutions by Enrollment Intensity (N=1,186,780)
The report provides numerous other figures to understand declines in graduation seen not only in the overall national completion rate, but also every institution type and all student subgroups. “The enrollment status over time is a huge factor in student completion rates, as our chart shows,” said Dr. Doug Shapiro, Executive Research Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “This shows how one of the effects of the recession–students finding it harder to afford staying enrolled full time–played out in the six year outcomes. This year’s completions report also helps practitioners and policymakers to identify other areas where opportunities for improvement may be the greatest.” To learn more, listen to Marketplace’s interview with Vince Tinto and Doug Shapiro. The 4th annual college completions report can be found at Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates – Fall 2009 Cohort.