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National Six-Year College Completion Rate Plateaus to 60.1%, According to New Research

by NSC Blog | Dec 4, 2020 | Research Reports, Research Services |

​Completion Progress Made Over Past Several Years Could Be Jeopardized

The national six-year completion rate appears to have reached a plateau, showing the smallest increase of the last five years, a 0.3 percentage point growth to 60.1 percent, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s Completing College: National and State Reports.

The latest data reveals a shifting college completion picture for the nation as well as states. The improvement in six-year completion rates had been slowing, from 2.2 percentage points (2010 to 2011 cohorts) to 1.4 percentage points (2012 to 2013 cohorts). This number is down to 0.3 percentage points for the latest 2014 cohort.

“The completions rate trend is flattening for traditional-age students, who comprise the vast majority of the 2014 starting cohort,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “While adult completion rates continue to increase generally, the decline among community college starters, particularly Hispanic and Black students, threatens to reverse the improvements of the past several years.”

Key findings include:

Far fewer states reported an increase in six-year completion rates, particularly among community college starters, than they did in the previous cohort year. In addition, the marginal increase in completion rates arising from the additional two years between the six- and eight-year outcomes has shrunk, resulting in a drop in the eight-year completion rate nationally as well as in all types of institutions.

In line with the national trend, public four-year completion rates rose in 32 out of 46 states for which sufficient data are available, while community college rates declined in 26 states out of 42 states.  However, the pace of improvement at public four-year colleges has slowed in 18 out of the 33 states that improved. Particularly, Ohio, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah had gains that were two percentage points smaller than in the previous cohort.

For community college starters, far fewer states improved this year. Only 16 states increased their six-year community college completion rate by at least 0.5 percentage points, compared to 33 states in the previous cohort. Of these 16 states, only six states—Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Maine, New Mexico, and South Dakota—saw an improvement of more than 1 percentage point, compared to 27 states in the previous cohort year.

As the fall 2020 Stay Informed report shows, community colleges suffered the most from enrollment declines in the summer and the fall of 2020, revealing a looming enrollment crisis for community colleges in the age of COVID-19. If the community college enrollments and completions continue to trend downward during the pandemic, the steady progress in college completions made by the nation and most states over the past few years could be jeopardized.

“While adult completion rates continue to increase generally, the decline among community college starters, particularly Hispanic and Black students, threatens to reverse the improvements of the past several years.”

Doug Shapiro
Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

 

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