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Average Student Not on Track to Graduate in 5 Years

August 2, 2022

The average full-time college student doesn’t even attempt to take enough credits to complete a bachelor’s degree within five years, according to a new Postsecondary Data Partnership Insights report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The report evaluated the credit-completion ratio—the ratio of credits earned to those attempted—and the credit-accumulation rate of more than 900,000 first-time students at 342 postsecondary institutions during the 2019–20 school year.

It found that the average student attempted fewer than 27 credit hours and completed fewer than 22 in their first year, earning on average roughly nine of every 12 credits they signed on for.

Institutions typically require a total of 120 credits for a bachelor’s degree. Only 51 percent of full-time students in the study earned 24 or more credit hours in their first year, and 28 percent earned 30 or more. But the rate varied widely by race/ethnicity, gender and enrollment intensity. For instance, Black men earned on average three fewer credits than white and Asian men, while Asian women earned 30 or more credits at double the rate of their Black and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander peers.

“This is the first ever report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that uses actual credit information and focuses on early momentum metrics such as first-year credit accumulation rate and credit completion ratio,” said Afet Dundar, director of equity in research and analytics at the research center and a co-author of the report. “College and university administrators and practitioners can use these metrics to design effective and timely support for those students who need it the most, while students are still enrolled. Otherwise, students will continue to fall behind academically and financially by not completing college as soon as possible.”

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Susan H. Greenberg

Susan H. Greenberg is a senior editor at Inside Higher Ed. A career journalist and educator, she joined the publication in August 2021 after eight years in Vermont, where she freelanced and taught writing at Middlebury College and Champlain College. Prior to that, she spent 22 years writing and editing for Newsweek magazine, where she covered everything from international affairs to arts and culture. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and River Teeth, among others. She has taught English and journalism at Phillips Academy, where she served as an advisor to the student newspaper. She holds a B.A. in English from Brown University and an M.S. in journalism from Columbia. The mother of three nearly adult children, she is very much enjoying her newly empty nest.

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