The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center today released a virtually comprehensive look at how long it took American college graduates in 2015 to earn their degrees. The new report is based on completion data for two million students who that year earned either an associate or bachelor's degree. It includes information on students who previously dropped out or transferred, which many other data sets struggle to capture.
The time-to-degree numbers include both students' active academic enrollment time and calendar years. Doug Shapiro, the center's executive research director, said the report is based in part on a complex measure devised to account for active enrollment, including factors such as part-time enrollment, colleges' varying academic schedules and students who were enrolled concurrently in multiple institutions.
On average, bachelor's degree earners from four-year, public institutions spent 5.2 academic years of full-time equivalent enrollment over a span of 5.6 calendar years. Students graduating from four-year private colleges took slightly less time to earn degrees: 4.8 academic years over 5.4 calendar years. Four-year for-profits had an average time to degree of 5.8 years across 8.8 calendar years.
On the community college side, the associate-degree earner had an average of 3.3 academic years of enrollment over 5.6 calendar years.
“Each additional term or semester has the potential to increase the cost to the student, both through forgone earnings and additional tuition expenses,” Shapiro said in a written statement. “Yet, spells of part-time enrollment and nonenrollment often enable students to mitigate these effects by combining earning and learning. Families and policy makers need to plan accordingly for this new reality.”