4 things leaders should know about stalled college completion rates

Most states have been slow to improve, with only five seeing increases of at least one percentage point.

College completion rates flattened this year, with slight and similar decreases in the number of white, Black, and Latinx graduates compared to 2021.

The 62.3% completion rate in 2022 barely changed from last year’s rate of 62.2%, which followed a 1.2% compared to 2020, according to the latest Completing College report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

More than 2.4 million people started postsecondary education in the fall of 2016, but the six-year completion rates for first-time students dropped for the first time in recent years among public and private four-year colleges and universities. Community college graduation rates increased slightly.

The report also warned that states have been slow to improve, with only five seeing increases of at least one percentage point. In 2021, two-thirds of states made at least one percentage point rate gains.

More than two-thirds of the students who started college six years ago have yet to earn a degree or credential. But only about 9% of those students are still working toward some level of completion, said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “The remaining 28.8% amounts to too many who are short of their dreams and left out of the educated workforce of the future,” Shapiro added.

The National Student Clearinghouse’s latest numbers also cover students who complete after transferring, not just
those who complete at the their starting institution. Students are increasingly mobile across institutions, the report notes.

Other key findings include:

  • Six-year completion rates increased in more than half of states, but improvements were small, with only five states increasing one percentage point or more.
  • Completion rates decreased at similar rates for white, Black, and Latinx students—by approximately half a percentage point—but increased for Asian and Native American students.
  • The gender gap in completion rates is steadily growing and is the widest seen since 2008. The graduation rate for female students is now 7.1 percentage points higher than it is for male students.
  • There was no change in the six-year completion rate for traditional-aged college students who started in the fall of 2016. Completion rates continue to improve for older students though they still lag behind traditional-aged students.

The report notes that some of the variability was caused by changes in classifications for some two-year institutions. It did not, however, delve deeper into the reasons for the stagnant college completion rates.

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of University Business and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for University Business, he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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