Education Dept. Releases Data on Enrollment, Graduation Rates, and Student Aid

March 11, 2009

President Obama sees a future in which the United States has a higher proportion of college graduates than any other country in the world. He set an ambitious date of 2020 for reaching that goal—and data released Tuesday provide a glimpse of just how far higher education has to go.

In recent years, only 36 percent of students who started at a four-year college seeking to earn a bachelor's degree had actually graduated from that institution within four years, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education. About 53 percent had graduated within five years, and 57 percent had done so within six. Only 31 percent of students who started at two-year institutions had earned a degree within three years.

The graduation-rate data are for the student cohorts that started at four-year colleges in 2001 and at two-year colleges in 2004. The report also highlights data on college financing, student aid, and enrollment for the 2007 fiscal year.

Graduation rates varied widely by gender, race, and type of institution. Women at both two- and four-year institutions were more likely than men to graduate on time. At four-year institutions, six-year graduation rates ranged from a high of 66 percent for Asian and Pacific Islander students to a low of 39 percent for American Indian ones. And students at four-year private nonprofit colleges outperformed those at public and for-profit ones.

Over all, college enrollment in the United States has been growing. Higher-education institutions enrolled 18.7 million graduate and undergraduate students in the fall of 2007—up from 18.2 million the year before. Of those, almost nine million were undergraduates enrolled at four-year colleges, and more than six million were undergraduates at two-year colleges.

The proportion of students receiving financial aid dropped slightly, according to the data. About 73 percent of full-time, first-time degree-seeking undergraduates received some form of student aid in the 2006-7 academic year. That's down slightly from 75 percent of such students in 2005-6.

The full report, "Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2007; Graduation Rates, 2001 & 2004 Cohorts; and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2007," is available online.