College Graduation Rate Sliding After Recession, Data Shows


Post-secondary graduation rates in the US are dropping fast, a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows. About five in ten students getting into college in 2009 haven’t graduated six years later. The report reveals a general drop in graduation rates among student age groups and types of institutions.

Only 52.9 percent of 2.9 million students starting college in 2009 received their higher education degree six years later, a 2.1 percent drop compared to students getting into college in 2008. The report raises concerns over college value and cost and whether post-secondary education has a good ROI, Melissa Korn for the WSJ writes. With more states across the country considering college graduation rates as a determining factor for college funding, the results are troubling both college administrators and elected officials.

Despite efforts to increase graduation rates in public colleges mainly through financial incentives, student graduation rates continue their downward spiral. The Clearinghouse report says that barely one in two 2009 incoming students has earned a bachelor’s degree six years later. In 2007, 56.1 percent of students graduated within six years and in 2008, 55 percent, indicating a continuously falling trend.

Compared to pre-recession enrollment, in 2009, half a million more students started college. As FiveThirthyEight observes, many of these students were adults who lost their jobs because of the recession.

For 2009 college-starters, a total of 153,000 students dropped out “with nothing to show for their educations except, in at least some cases, debt,” the Hechinger Report says.

According to the study authors, 33.6 percent of students aged between 20 to 24 graduated within six years. For learners over 24 years old, the graduation rates were 39.2 percent. For students getting into college at the age of 20 or younger, completion rates were the highest, with 58.6 percent graduating.

One of the report’s most substantial drops in completion rates came to part-time students who started college in their early 20s. Out of this cohort, only 9.1 percent earned a degree within six years.

For students attending college in their early 20s, completion rates have dropped substantially. The sharp decline, however, might not be entirely glum, as it could imply that these students have been absorbed into the marketplace without having to complete their degree first, Melissa Korn posits in the Wall Street Journal.

In terms of private and public school graduation rates, six in 10 students in public schools received a bachelor’s degree within six years as opposed to seven in 10 private colleges, the report reveals. Students enrolled in four-year private, for-profit schools had the worst graduation rates with fewer than three in 10 students finishing college within six years, says.

The report’s findings come in contrast with President Barack Obama’s 2009 pledge to make the US the country with the largest population of college and university degree holders.

The Lumina Foundation, a non-profit organization that tries to improve college graduation rates, supported the Clearinghouse Research Center study.