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College Completion Rates Improved Between 2016 and 2021, But Students of Color and Part-Time Students Lagged Behind

A new state-by-state analysis by national nonprofit organization Complete College America (CCA) found that while on-time graduation rates at both two- and four-year higher education institutions improved significantly between 2015 and 2021, graduation rates for students of color and those over 25 years old have lagged. The report, "Building on Completion Gains: Amplifying Progress and Closing Persistent Gaps," outlines strategies colleges and universities can take to close those gaps.

Data from the CCA Alliance found that on-time graduation rates over the five years, even during the pandemic, improved by +6 percentage points, and seven Alliance members more than doubled their rates. But while all institutions saw graduation rates improve overall, they have not been enough to close the gaps for certain students. Enrollment rates for first-generation students; Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) students; those 25 and older; and working adults have declined at community colleges and "less selective, non-flagship four-year institutions," the report notes.

Among students ages 25 and older, fewer than four in 10 Black and Latinx students complete a four-year degree in six years, and four in 10 students ages 25 and older complete a credential at a community college in six years. The rates are even lower for part-time students.

The report offers a set of CCA's "Game Changer" strategies to help institutions support BILPOC and older students to complete college. The four-pronged approach focuses on aligning college to individual student goals, creating clear course roadmaps to a degree or workplace credentials, helping students maintain momentum to earn credits faster and stay on track, and providing support for students' needs and removing barriers to success.

To read and download the report, visit this CCA page.

CCA's mission is to "advocate for dramatically increasing college completion rates and closing institutional performance gaps by working with states, systems, institutions, and partners to scale highly effective structural reforms and promote policies that improve student success." To learn more, visit CCA's home page.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.

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