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Completion Rates Suggest Student Retention Efforts 'Effective'

The United States can declare steady improvement when it comes to graduation rates for all kinds of students at two-year and four-year schools, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center's "Signature Report," an assessment of student completion rates for the fall 2012 cohort through spring 2018.

The completion rate really means the overall national six-year rate, which was just 58.3 percent across all kinds of institutions for students beginning school in fall 2012, up from 56.8 percent for those who started in fall 2011. The overall completion rate for students attending public institutions (both two-year and four-year) was significantly higher: 65.7 percent for the fall 2012 cohort, compared to 64.7 percent the previous year.

Longitudinal changes in public institution completion rates for the cohort starting its post-secondary education in 2006 through those beginning in 2012.

Longitudinal changes in public institution completion rates for the cohort starting its post-secondary education in 2006 through those beginning in 2012. Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center's "Signature Report"

The rate for people who attended full-time was a "particularly notable" 83.6 percent, whether in two-year or four-year schools. Graduation for those who started in two-year schools and attended full-time increased 1.7 percentage points to 39.4 percent; and for those who started in four-year institutions, it grew 1.1 percentage points to 67.8 percent.

Completion gaps still exist for Black and Hispanic students, even though both groups also saw growth. The 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, a trend called "promising" by the Center.

For those students who started at a two-year school and transferred to a four-year college (with or without earning an associate's degree), 15.8 percent had finished a degree by the end of the study period, reflecting a 1.1 percentage point increase from the previous year.

Six-year outcomes for all students, those who started at four-year institutions and those who began at two-year schools.

Six-year outcomes for all students, those who started at four-year institutions and those who began at two-year schools. Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center's "Signature Report"

Among the four largest categories of institutions, students who started at four-year private nonprofit institutions had the highest completion rates (76.1 percent), followed by students at four-year publics (65.7 percent), two-year publics (39.2 percent) and four-year private for-profits. Stop-out rates — where students stopped before the end of the study — were highest (52.2 percent) at four-year private for-profit schools, followed by two-year public institutions (46.2 percent).

The report called out for praise the "the growing effectiveness of student retention efforts." As the authors noted, "institutions have become better able to meet student academic goals and expectations, which ultimately result in stronger retention and completion outcomes."

The full report is openly available on the Research Center's website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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