Decoding the Latest Trends in College Completion Rates

February 19, 2024

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Title: Completing College: National and State Reports With Longitudinal Data Dashboard on Six- and Eight-Year Completion Rates 

Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

The 2023 edition of “Completing College: National and State Reports” by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the latest installment in an ongoing series examining college trajectories from enrollment to completion across the United States.

The report provides a six-year overview of outcomes for the fall 2017 cohort and an eight-year completion rate for the fall 2015 cohort, offering a comprehensive look at the efficacy and changing dynamics of the higher education system, particularly in terms of institutional mobility, reentry, and enrollment changes.

Key findings include:

  • Overall, the six-year completion rate has plateaued at 62.2 percent for the fall 2017 cohort, remaining unchanged since 2015. Prior to this, this rate had been on an upward trajectory, increasing by 9.3 percentage points over six years from the 2009 cohort.
  • All four-year institutions experienced a decline in completion rates. Community colleges were the only sector to see increases, with a marginal rise of 0.4 percentage points to 43.4 percent.
  • The increase in students not completing within six years is attributed to higher stop-out rates rather than prolonged enrollment. The proportion of students no longer enrolled has hit its highest point since 2014, at 29.2 percent.
  • Over half of states saw improvements in six-year completion rates, with nine states improving by one percentage point or more. However, five states saw decreases of more than one percentage point.
  • Completion rates have either stalled or decreased across all ethnic groups, with the most notable decreases among Native American and Black students. However, Black, and Hispanic students at community colleges saw increased completion rates.
  • The gender gap in completion rates continues to expand, now at the widest point since at least 2008, with women outpacing men by 7.2 percentage points. Nationally, Hispanic men’s completion rates decreased more sharply compared to their female counterparts.
  • Traditional-aged students entering college in fall 2017 saw declines in their overall six-year completion rate. Older students continued to make gains, but they still lag behind traditional-aged students.
  • The eight-year completion rate for the fall 2015 cohort decreased by 0.5 percentage points from 2014. Only 2.4 percent of this cohort completed in their seventh and eighth years, marking the lowest rate in recent cohorts. Hispanic, Native American, Asian, and Black students had proportionally more completions in the seventh and eighth years than the overall cohort.

Click here to read the full report.

—Nguyen DH Nguyen

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