Half of All First-Time Students Earn Credentials Within 6 Years

December 01, 2010

Of students who entered higher education in 2003-4, about half had earned degrees or certificates by June 2009, says a report from the U.S. Department of Education. As for the rest, 15 percent were still enrolled, and 36 percent had left higher education.

The "first look" report, "Persistence and Attainment of 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students: After 6 Years," looks at a nationally representative sample of students who entered college for the first time in 2003-4. The report examines how they fared at their initial institutions, and also whether they earned academic credentials during that time period.

By the end of the six-year period, 9 percent of the students earned certificates, 9 percent associate degrees, and 31 percent bachelor's degrees. The numbers are similar to those of the last cohort the department followed, which began college in 1995-6.

Among students who began at public two-year colleges, 9 percent earned certificates, 14 percent associate degrees, and 12 percent bachelor's degrees. Among those who began at four-year colleges, 2 percent received certificates, 5 percent associate degrees, and 58 percent bachelor's degrees.

The report also looks at students' outcomes at the first institution they attended. Eight percent earned certificates, 9 percent associate degrees, and 22 percent bachelor's degrees from their initial institution within six years. Of those who did not earn credentials at their original colleges, 6 percent were still enrolled there, 27 percent had transferred, and 28 percent had left without enrolling elsewhere.

Those numbers reinforce the idea that many of today's students "swirl" among institutions. The federal graduation rate for colleges does not account for transfer students.

The report also breaks the data down by students' race, age, and family income, among other categories. It shows, for instance, that part-time students continue to fare worse than their peers: 71 percent of part-time students had left higher education without degrees after six years, compared with 30 percent of those who attended full time.