Completing College: A Look at National Student Attainment Rates

By Jael Greene

Recently, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released its fifth annual report on national college completion rates, Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates – Fall 2010 Cohort.  This report focuses on six-year outcomes for students who began their postsecondary enrollment in the fall of 2010.  This cohort was larger than the previous fall 2009 cohort and included more adult learners, more part-time learners and more students enrolled in community colleges and for-profit institutions.

Key findings of the report include:

  • The national six-year completion rate increased to 54.8 percent for the Fall 2010 cohort from 52.9 percent for the Fall 2009 cohort.
    • The Fall 2010 cohort completion rate is comparable to the Fall 2008 cohort rate of 55.1 percent, but it is still more than a percentage point lower than the rate of the pre-recession 2007 cohort (56.1 percent).
  • Students that began at four-year public institutions had a six-year completion rate of 62.4 percent.
    • Of those students, 49.5 percent graduated from the institution at which they started, while 13 percent graduated from a different institution.
  • The six-year completion rate of students who started at two-year public institutions was 39.3 percent.
    • Of those students, 26.7 percent graduated from their starting institution, 3.3 percent completed a different two-year institution and 9.3 percent completed at a different four-year institution.
  • Completion rates for students who started at four-year private nonprofit institutions increased to 73.9 percent from 71.5 percent for the Fall 2009 cohort.
  • There was an improvement in the completion rates of students who started at four-year for-profit institutions.
    • The completion rate for the Fall 2010 cohort was 37.1 percent, an increase from 32.8 percent for the Fall 2009 cohort.
  • Students enrolling exclusively part-time had the lowest completion rates, but part-time enrollment affected older students’ completion rates less than younger students.
    • Adult learners had the highest completion rates of part-time learners (28 percent) compared to delayed entry learners (12.8 percent) and traditional-age students (12.7 percent).
  • An examination of the eight-year outcomes for the Fall 2008 cohort revealed that, with the two additional years, the completion rate increased to 61.4 percent (from 55.1 percent).