Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates
In our fourth Signature Report, we examine the various pathways that students take to complete a college degree or certificate. Our report goes beyond traditional graduation rate calculations that focus on first-time full-time students who finish at their starting institution to provide the most comprehensive look at student outcomes on today's campuses. We study completion rates separately for adult learners and traditional-age students and encompass postsecondary credentials of all levels and types at any institution in any state. Completion rates are also reported separately for exclusively full-time and exclusively part-time students as well as for students who changed their enrollment from full to part time or vice versa (aka mixed enrollment students).
Among the study's findings:
- Within six years, 12 percent of first-time students completed a degree or certificate at an institution other than the one where they started, raising the overall completion rate from 42 to 54 percent.
- More than one in five students who completed a degree did so at an institution other than the one where they started – students whose successful outcomes are invisible to traditional graduation rate calculations.
- Out of the full starting cohort, 3.5 percent received a degree within six years in a state different from where they started representing 6.5 percent of all completions.
- Overall, 15 percent of two-year starters completed a degree at a four-year institution within six years, and nearly two-thirds of those did so without first obtaining a two-year degree.
- Gains from completions elsewhere were greater for traditional-age students (age 24 or younger at first entry) than for older students (age over 24 at first entry).
- Older students who enrolled exclusively part time actually had a higher completion rate than traditional-age part-time students.
The complete Signature Report includes detailed summaries on the various pathways to completion and related tables; color charts broken down by enrollment intensity, age at first entry, type of institution, including the completion rates at the starting institution and elsewhere; and insight and future recommendations from the authors.