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National College Completion Rate Rises Again

December 15, 2017

The national college completion rate increased 2.1 percentage points compared to last year, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, a nonprofit that tracks the progress of almost all U.S. college students.

The six-year completion rate for students who enrolled in college in the fall of 2011 was 56.9 percent. Last year's rate of 54.8 percent also was up roughly two percentage points from the previous year. That increase followed a two-year slide in national completion rates. However, this year's rate now surpasses the pre-recession high of 56.1 percent for students who started college in 2007.

“For the more than 2.27 million students who started college six years ago, the signs of post-recession recovery are clear: adult students shrank as a share of the cohort, four-year public and private nonprofit institutions increased their share of the cohort, and the total completion rate surpassed the pre-recession high,” Doug Shapiro, the center's executive director, said in a written statement.

However, Shapiro predicted that pressures other than those related to the economy would become bigger factors in the future.

“In the coming years, demographic changes will overtake economic shifts in their impact on college completion rates, as the number of high school graduates declines and their diversity continues to increase,” he said.Bar chart breaks down outcomes after six years for students who started at two-year institutions, those who started at four-year institutions, and overall. Overall, 45.4 percent completed at their starting institution, 11.5 percent completed at a different institution, 11.7 percent were still enrolled, and 31.4 percent were not enrolled. For those who started at four-year institutions, 55.1 percent completed at their starting institution, 11.6 percent completed at a different institution, 10 percent were still enrolled, and 23.3 percent were not enrolled. For those who started at two-year institutions, 26.5 percent completed at their starting institution, 11.2 percent completed at a different institution, 15.2 percent were still enrolled, and 47.1 percent were not enrolled.“For now, the trend represents a strong recovery in student success rates, across all of higher education, from the declines caused by the recession.”

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Paul Fain

Paul Fain, Contributing Editor, came to Inside Higher Ed in September 2011, after a six-year stint covering leadership and finance for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul has also worked in higher ed P.R., with Widmeyer Communications, but couldn't stay away from reporting. A former staff writer for C-VILLE Weekly, a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., Paul has written for The New York Times, Washington City Paper and Mother Jones. He's won a few journalism awards, including one for beat reporting from the Education Writers Association and the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award. Paul got hooked on journalism while working too many hours at The Review, the student newspaper at the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in political science in 1996. A native of Dayton, Ohio, and a long-suffering fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Fain plays guitar in a band with more possible names than polished songs.

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