enrollment

Graduation rates improve modestly for some sectors of higher education

Fred Longenecker

February 4, 2014

In response to calls for raising higher education graduation rates, the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that certain sectors are, in fact, showing some signs of improvement.

Last month, the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics released the following new graduation rate data from IPEDS, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System:

(Important to note: IPEDS doesn’t track completion rates for less-than-full-time students or for transferring or returning/interrupted-attendance students. For example, it excludes students who didn’t graduate from the community college they started at but who may have transferred to a four-year college.)

IPEDS graduation rates, August 2012
(Click to enlarge.)

The rates shown here are for full-time, first-time, degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students in specific cohort years who finished by August 31, 2012 (150 percent of normal program completion time) at the same institution where the students started. Four-year institutions used 2006 as the cohort year, while two-year institutions used 2009 as the cohort year.

As noted above, IPEDS doesn’t track completion rates for less-than-full-time students or for transferring or returning/interrupted-attendance students, e.g., it excludes students who didn’t graduate from the community college they started at but who may have transferred to a four-year college.

Five-year trend lines show modest improvements for public universities, for-profit institutions, and two-year private institutions

2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
Four-year private, nonprofit 65.5% 65.1% 65.4% 65.1% 64.6% 64.4%
Four-year private, for-profit 31.5% 42.0% 28.4% 20.4% 22.0% 24.5%
Four-year public 57.2% 56.5% 56.0% 55.7% 54.9% 55.0%
Two-year public 21.2% 21.9% 22.5% 22.1% 22.0% 21.9%
Two-year private, nonprofit 62.3% 56.3% 53.1% 55.3% 51.4% 50.2%
Two-year private, for profit 63.0% 62.7% 61.7% 60.9% 59.7% 60.0%
Source: IPEDS, U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, 2007-2012 reports, Enrollment in Postsecondary Education.

As shown above, a comparison of the new report from the Department of Education with the Department’s previous reports reveals noticeable improvements compared to five years ago for certain sectors. Specifically, we see here a:

  • 2.2 percentage point gain for four-year public institutions, from 55.0 percent in 2007 to 57.2 percent in 2012;
  • 7.0 percentage point gain for for-profit, four-year private colleges, from 24.5 percent in 2007 to 31.5 percent in 2012 even though there was a substantial decline in 2012;
  • 12.1 percentage point gain for nonprofit, two-year private colleges, from 50.2 percent in 2007 to 62.3 percent in 2012; and a
  • 3.0 percentage point gain for for-profit, two-year private colleges, from 60.0 percent in 2007 to 63.0 percent in 2012.

In contrast, graduation rates appear to have changed very little for nonprofit four-year private institutions and for two-year public institutions.

What are other campuses doing to improve college student retention and completion rates?

If you would like to learn how other campuses are making improvements in retaining their students, please  join us for an upcoming webinar, Raising Retention Rates by Prioritizing Student Interventions on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. This webinar will feature case studies from two campuses.


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