How Many Students Earned Their First Undergraduate Degree in 2015-16?

By Rachel Fenton

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center recently published its annual Undergraduate Degree Earners ReportThe Clearinghouse collects graduation data from participating institutions that provides counts of first-time graduates and graduates with prior certificates or degrees by institutional sector, age group and gender.  Graduates are considered to be first-time graduates only if the award (certificate or degree) they received in the reporting year is their first postsecondary award from a U.S. Title IV degree-granting institution.

Below are the key findings:

  • Of the 2,894,987 students who earned an undergraduate degree in 2015-16, more than 2.2 million first-time undergraduates (2,246,233) earned their first undergraduate bachelor’s or associates degree. This represents a 1.4 percent decline from 2014-15 when 2,278,118 first-time undergraduates earned their first degree.
    • In contrast, the number of graduates earning their second or third bachelor’s or associates degree increased by 1.7 percent from 637,780 in 2014-15 to 648,754 in 2015-16.
  • The percentage distribution of prior awards for students who earned a bachelor’s degree has changed over the past four academic years. About three-quarters (76%) of 2015-16 graduates were first-time graduates, compared to 78% in 2012-13.  About 3.2 percent had previously earned a bachelor’s degree or higher (compared to 3.1% in 2012-13), 19.5 percent had previously earned an associate degree (compared to 18.0% in 2012-13), and 1.4 percent had previously earned a certificate (compared to 1.2% in 2012-13).
  • The data showed variation by age in first-time undergraduates who earned bachelor’s or associates degrees. The number of first-time graduates age 25 and older who earned a bachelor’s or associates degree declined seven percent (from 689,012 in 2014-15 to 640,445 in 2015-16).
    • The number of first-time graduates under age 25 increased by 1.2 percent (from 1,505,229 in 2012-13 to 1,603,381 in 2015-16).
  • With regard to gender, more women than men were first-time graduates earning bachelor’s degrees in 2015-16 (786,631 women versus 630,720 men).
    • Of the first-time graduates earning associates degrees, 439,153 were women and 295,390 were men in 2015-16.
  • First-time graduates attended public, nonprofit and for-profit institutions. Nearly one million (957,138) first-time graduates earning bachelor’s degrees graduated from four-year public institutions in 2015-16, 460,370 graduated from four-year private nonprofit institutions, and 70,816 graduated from four-year private for-profit institutions.
    • Of the first-time graduates earning associates degrees, 508,950 graduated from two-year public institutions, 114,810 from four-year public institutions, 61,525 from four-year private for-profit institutions, and 36,640 from four-year private nonprofit institutions.