Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates

Posted by National Student Clearinghouse on November 30, 2015

In the latest release of its Signature Report, the National Student Clearinghouse finds that the cohort of students who started their postsecondary education in the fall of 2009 had a lower completion rate than the previous two cohorts. The overall six-year completion rate for the fall 2009 cohort was 52.9 percent, down 2.1 percent over the fall 2008 cohort and 3.2 percentage points lower than the fall 2007 cohort.

The NSC attributes this decline in completion rates to the lasting impacts of the Great Recession. The Recession caused more students to enroll in postsecondary education; 2009’s 2.9 million enrollees saw an eight percent rise over 2008, which in turn saw a 12 percent increase over 2007. The students who enrolled were more likely to be older, enrolled part-time, and attending community college. Troublingly, older students and full-time students saw their completion rates drop the most, although these rates did drop across the board. Looking at different age groups, students who first enrolled between the ages of 20-24 declined 4.7 percentage points compared to the previous cohort.

In terms of policy indications, the NSC notes that the disappointing outcomes 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.” Instead, the NSC insists that without these efforts “the declines could have been even worse for particular types of students or institutions, given the demographic and economic forces at play.”

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