National Six-Year Completion Rate Reaches Highest Level, 58.3 Percent, Since the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Began Tracking

The overall national six-year completion rate reached 58.3 percent for the fall 2012 cohort, an increase of 1.5 percentage points from the fall 2011 cohort, according to the newly released National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report, Completing College: A National View of Student Completion Rates – Fall 2012 Cohort. This is the highest percentage rate in the six years that the Research Center has been tracking the data.

This is the third year in a row that the overall completion rate has grown. The comprehensive rate includes both full-time and part-time students attending two-year and four-year institutions combined. The completion rate grew across the board, for all students regardless of gender, race and ethnicity, age, or enrollment intensity.

“Coming on top of last year’s gains, these across-the-board improvements are some of the most encouraging data on student success that we’ve seen in a long time,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the Research Center. “Retention and completion rates have increased because students have access to more of the programs, tools and support they need to succeed.”

Six-Year Outcomes for All Students, Students Who Started at Four-Year Institutions, and Students who Started at Two-Year Institutions (N=2,264,759)

The completion rate for two-year starters increased 1.7 percentage points to 39.4 percent whereas the rate for four-year starters increased 1.1 percentage points to 67.8 percent. The longitudinal trend for four-year publics was especially noteworthy, where there was a 5 percentage point increase in overall completion rate, from 60.6 percent for the 2006 cohort to 65.7 percent for the 2012 cohort.

Some of the most notable increases were observed in the rate for black and Hispanic students who started at four-year public institutions. The total completion rate increased by 1.6 percentage points to 47.6 percent for black students, and 1.7 percentage points to 57.4 percent for Hispanic students. These increases surpassed the growth observed for Asian and white students, whose completion rate grew approximately one percentage point from the fall 2011 to fall 2012 cohort. Although these gains are promising, Asian and white students continue to graduate at much higher rates (76.7 percent and 72.1 percent, respectively) than black and Hispanic students.

Similar gains were observed for black students who started at two-year public institutions. Although black students continue to have the lowest two-year completion rate at 27.5 percent, their overall completion rate grew by 1.6 percentage points. The increase in the completion rate for Hispanic students who started at two-year public institutions was smaller, less than 1 percentage point (35.7 percent).

“The rise in completion rates for black and Hispanic students is encouraging,” said Lorelle Espinosa, vice president for research at the American Council on Education. “To close equity gaps, it will continue to be important to focus attention on strengthening those institutions that enroll the most black and Hispanic students, including the nation’s minority serving institutions.”

Six-Year Outcomes by Race and Ethnicity (N=1,661,399)

Unlike most federal and state numbers, this comprehensive completion rate includes all students: full-time and part-time, of all ages, at two-year, four-year, public and private institutions, as well as those who graduated after transferring to a new college or university. The National Student Clearinghouse data covers 96.8 percent of college enrollments across all postsecondary institutions nationwide.

Report Highlights

  • The national completion rate for the fall 2012 cohort of first-time post-secondary students is 58 percent.
  • Black and Hispanic student total completion rate increased considerably, to 48 and 57 percent, respectively, for four-year starters.
  • Completions at four-year institutions for students who started at two-year schools rose to 15.8 percent, an increase of 1.1 percentage points

Here is a link to the complete study which is available for download: