By Counting Transfers, Completion Rate at 4-Year Public Colleges Rises to 63 Percent

By Caralee J. Adams — February 24, 2015 2 min read
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The National Student Clearinghouse today released its latest figures on college completion by state, giving a more comprehensive —and encouraging—graduation picture than traditional federal data by including transfer and part-time students.

In its new state-level report, the Herndon, Va.-based nonprofit research organization tracked 2.7 million students who began college in 2008 for six years to document their pathways. It included full-time and part-time students who attended two-year public colleges, four-year public universities, and four-year private, nonprofit institutions.

Nationwide, while about 50 percent of students who started at a four-year public institution graduated from that school within six years, another 13 percent finished elsewhere, boosting the total completion rate at those type of schools to about 63 percent, according to the findings.

The transfer activity varied widely by state, with 25 percent of students who started at one four-year school in Minnesota finishing at another, while just 7 percent did so in Nevada.

Considering all categories of schools, overall, the six-year graduation rate was about 55 percent for students followed through 2014.

Among community college students, about one-third completed at an institution other than where they first enrolled. In seven states, more than 40 percent of two-year public college students finished elsewhere. Women were more likely than men to start at a community college and successful graduate from a four-year university, the report revealed.

In most states, students who started college right after high school had higher completion rates than those who delayed entry until ages 21-24.

Traditional data from the federal government (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System or IPEDS) analyzes first-time, full-time students who graduate from the same institution where they begin their studies. Those who finish elsewhere are counted as dropouts with IPEDS. The Clearinghouse follows a wider group of students between schools and across state lines. Not tracking completions elsewhere would lead to at least a 20 percent increase in the nonpersistence rate for students who started at four-year institutions, according to the clearinghouse.

This is the third year the clearinghouse has released its state-level college completion- rate report. The analysis covers 3,600 participating college and universities, capturing 96 percent of college enrollments nationwide.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.