College Graduation Rates Stay The Same, Report Shows

December 3, 2010

cap and booksLess than half the number of students who enter college for the first time leave with a degree, yielding almost the exact same graduation rate as one decade ago, a government survey reported Wednesday.

The Beginning Postsecondary Survey (BPS), last conducted in 1991 and 1996, is a longitudinal study that tracks a representative sample of students who enter college for the first time, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. From 2003 to 2009, researchers closely monitored the progress of college students, noting whether or not they graduated and what type of degree they attained upon matriculation.

The survey, administered by the National Center for Education Statistics at the US Department of Education, found that about 40 percent of all college students beginning in 2003 completed a degree at their first institution within six years, compared to 39 percent in the 1996 study. In that six year period, about 31 percent finished with a bachelor's degree, 9 percent graduated with an associate degree and another 9 percent earned a certificate. Fifteen percent did not receive a degree, but were currently enrolled in two or four year institutions. The remaining 36 percent did not receive a degree or certificate and were no longer enrolled.

According to Inside Higher Ed, bachelor's degree attainment improved slightly compared to the 1996 study, but the overall completion rate is marginally lower.

It is typical for studies that investigate student outcomes to yield great variation depending on the types of institutions they attended and the characteristics they have. Notably, students who enrolled at two-year colleges were far less likely to earn a degree of any type than those who began at four-year institutions: 12 percent and 58 percent received bachelor's degrees, respectively.

Although men and women graduated at roughly the same rate, there were significant differences by race: 45 percent of Asian students had completed a bachelor's degree in six years, compared to 36 percent of white students, 17 percent of Hispanic, 17 percent of black and 27 percent of mixed race students.

Researchers emphasized that even though this type of study is a useful barometer for measuring student success at the college level, it is not the only way to gauge the nation's higher education performance, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

For instance, when President Barack Obama announced in August that improving college graduation rates by 2020 is a high-level priority for the government, he was not talking about the numbers the BPS study publicized. Rather, he was referring to the nation's attainment rate, which is the percentage of some population--adults ages 25 to 64, for example--who have attained a degree. This figure is much easier to calculate because each individual college can report how many students graduated from that institution, as opposed to tracking students who move from school to school, as the BPS study did.

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"College Grad Rates Stay Exactly the Same," chronicle.com, December 2, 2010, Kevin Carey

"Persistence and Attainment of 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students: After 6 Years," nces.ed.gov, December 2010, Alexandria Walton Radford

"New Data, No Better Results," insidehighered.com, December 2, 2010, Doug Lederman

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