Both two- and four-year colleges are seeing steady improvement in student completion rates, finds the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center‘s “Signature Report,” which assessed the six-year student completion rates for the fall 2012 cohort through spring 2018.
According to the report, completion rates across all institution types rose from 56.8% for students who started in fall 2011 to 58.3% for students who started in fall 2012.
Students starting at four-year private nonprofit colleges had the highest completion rates (76.1%), followed by students at four-year public nonprofit colleges (65.7%), two-year public nonprofit colleges (39.2%), and four-year private for-profit colleges.
Writing for Campus Technology, Dian Schaffhauser notes that public two- and four-year institutions saw significant improvement, with completion rates rising from 64.7% for the 2011 cohort to 65.7% the following year.
Students who attended full-time, regardless of institution type, had “particularly notable” completion rates (83.6%), according to the report. Students who attended two-year institutions full-time saw completion rates rise 1.7 percentage points to 39.4%, and students who attended four-year institutions full-time saw completion rates rise 1.1 percentage points to 67.8%.
Transfer students also saw improved completion rates: 15.8% of students who transferred from a two-year institution to a four-year institution graduated by the end of the study period, a 1.1 percentage point increase from the previous year.
While student completion rates saw overall improvement, completion gaps persist for black and Hispanic students, according to the report. But these groups did see some growth, with completion rates rising 1.6 percentage points to 47.6% for black students and 1.7 percentage points to 57.4% for Hispanic students.
The report suggests that the overall improvement in completion rates reflects “the growing effectiveness of student retention efforts.” The report’s authors add that “institutions have become better able to meet student academic goals and expectations, which ultimately result in stronger retention and completion outcomes.”
For example, two- and four-year colleges across the United States have begun partnering to create concurrent admission programs to support transfer student completion. The Tulsa Transfer Project, a partnership between Tulsa Community College (TCC) and five surrounding northeast Oklahoma universities aims to boost enrollment, retention, and graduation for students working to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Some colleges are even experimenting with how residence halls can improve student retention rates. For instance, Bowling Green State University built community-centric residence halls specifically for underclass students. In their 2010 master plan, Bowling Green identified unique residence hall design features that would foster social immersion and a sense of community and therefore increase underclass student retention. With the introduction of the new residence halls, Bowling Green saw a noteworthy increase in retention rates, from 69% in 2012 to 78% in 2015 (Schaffhauser, Campus Technology, 2/12).