College & Workforce Readiness

College Board Reports Sluggish Progress on Completion Rates

By Caralee J. Adams — December 14, 2011 2 min read
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While more Americans are getting college degrees every year, the pace of progress is slower than many have hoped.

A new report from the College Board shows 41.1 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 have an associate degree or higher, up from 38.1 percent in 2000. At this rate, the completion rate will be just 46 percent by 2025—far below the target of 55 percent set by a College Board commission and others.

According to the College Board, the states with the highest completion rates:
Massachusetts - 53.7 percent
North Dakota - 50.5 percent
Minnesota - 49.4 percent
New York - 49.2 percent
New Jersey 46.2 percent

Just what does it take to raise completion rates? A College Board commission in 2008 came up with 10 recommendations, and today’s report tracks those indicators of progress.

There were improvements in higher preschool and kindergarten enrollment, more students graduating from high school graduation and fewer dropping out, simplification of the college-admissions process, and better alignment between high school standards and college/workplace expectations.

Although persistence rates are up for full-time college students, three-year graduation rates for associate-degree-seeking students (34.1 percent) and six-year completion rates for bachelor-degree-seeking students (57.7 percent) have been relatively unchanged.

Among the other recommendations the College Board suggests to help boost completion: Improve middle and high school college counseling, provide more need-based financial aid, increase transparency in the financial-aid process, control college costs, reduce college dropouts with data-based retention strategies, and ease transfer processes.

The College Board report indicates that the average student-to-counselor ratio in the U.S. was 457:1, up about 10 students, and counselors were spending 26 percent of their time on postsecondary-admissions counseling, down about 3 percent from the previous year.

When it came to need-based grant aid from 2004 to 2008, there was an increase of 1.7 percent for low-income students at two-year public colleges and 4.4 percent for those at four-year public schools, the report says.

State funding for higher education took a significant hit in the past 30 years. Total public support for public higher education went down nearly 14 percent, from $8,326 (in constant 2010 dollars) per full-time student in 1980-81 to $7,171 in 2010-11.

The findings of the “College Completion Agenda 2011 Progress Report” are to be discussed at an event in Boston today.

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