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Paths to the Bachelor's Degree

July 21, 2011

Bachelor's degree recipients in 2007-8 who began their postsecondary educations at a community college took almost 20 percent longer to complete their degrees than did those who started out at a four-year institution, those who began at four-year private colleges finished faster than did those at four-year public and for-profit institutions, and those who delayed entry into college by more than a year out of high school took almost 60 percent longer to complete their degrees than did those who went directly to college.

Those are just a few of the many findings to be gleaned from a federal report released Wednesday that mines a new longitudinal database tracking the educational and post-graduation progress of a sample of students who earned their bachelor's degrees in 2007-8.

The new report, "2008–09 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B:08/09): First Look," follows those graduates through their first year out of college, offering insights into the extent to which they went to graduate school or into the work force and the income of those who sought and got jobs, for instance.

It also looks backward, though, examining such things as college enrollment patterns for students from differing demographic backgrounds, levels of borrowing, and the time it took them to earn their degrees.

The time to degree data are among the most interesting. As seen in the table below, there was wide variation in the median time it took students to complete their bachelor's degrees based on the types of institutions where they started and ended up, how quickly they went to college, and what they studied.

The median time to degree for all bachelor's earners in the sample was 52 months, or four and a third years. Forty-four percent of all degree earners in 2007-8 earned their diplomas in 48 months or fewer, nearly a quarter finished in five years, 9.3 percent required a sixth year, 12 percent took seven or eight eight years, and 11.5 percent took more than eight years to finish their degrees.

Students who did not enter college until more than a year after graduating high school took far longer to get degrees, with a median of 80 months to 51 for those who entered college within a year of getting high school diplomas. Nearly a third of the delayed entry graduates took more than eight years to finish college.

Those who started at community colleges also took longer to earn bachelor's degrees than did other students (a median of 63 months), compared to 52 months for public four-year universities, 45 for private nonprofit four-years, and 57 for four-year for-profit colleges.

And those who earned their four-year degrees from for-profit institutions took twice as long to do so than did their peers at private and public nonprofit colleges.
Time to Bachelor's Degree, by Institution Type, Major and Other Factors

    Percentage Who Completed in:
Type of Student Median No. of Months to Complete 48 Months or Less 49-60 Months 61-72 Months 73-120 Months More than 120 Months
All Bachelor's Recipients 52 44.2% 22.9% 9.3% 12.1% 11.5%
Delayed Entry Into College 80 18.7 14.9 10.2 23.2 33
Did Not Delay Entry 51 47.6 24 9.2 10.6 8.6
             
First Institution            
Public 2-year 63 26.3 22.3 14 18.9 18.5
Public 4-year 52 43.7 28.6 9.6 10.3 7.8
Private 4-year 45 64.5 16.2 4.4 7.5 7.4
For-profit 4-year 57 38.2 15.4 8.1 16.6 21.6
             
Institution Where Degree Earned          
Public 4-year 55 38.4 29 11.6 13.4 8.6
Private 4-year 45 58.9 15.2 5.2 8.3 12.5
For-profit 4-year 103 18.2 8.5 8.3 21.3 43.7
             
Major            
Computer sciences 58 34.5 18 8.6 15.6 23.2
Engineering 56 38.1 35.4 8.9 9.4 8.3
Biological/physical sciences, math, agricultural sciences 45 57.5 22 10 6.7 3.7
General studies 57 29.9 24.8 10.3 17.7 17.2
Social sciences 45 55.7 18.1 8.1 10.4 7.6
Humanities 45 54.7 20.4 8.9 10.4 5.6
Health care fields 57 34.9 19 10.6 15.6 19.9
Business 53 40.5 21.8 7.5 13.3 16.9
Education 54 39.9 26.9 10.1 13.1 10

 

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