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College-Completion Rates Inch Up at Public Institutions, Research Finds

A new report from the National Student Clearinghouse shows college-completion rates are relatively flat, but there are slight improvements occurring at public two-year and four-year institutions.

The Herndon, Va.,-based research agency's Signature Report on college completion published Dec. 15, tracks students over six years and, unlike traditional graduation measures, includes those who start at one institution and finish at another.

The clearinghouse finds that 54.2 percent of first-time degree-seeking students who enrolled in fall 2007 completed a degree or certificate by 2013, up from 54.1 percent in the cohort finishing in 2012. But looking more closely by type of school, this year's report shows completion rates were 61.9 percent for students who started at four-year public institutions, up from 60.6 percent. At two-year public institutions, it was 37.4 percent, an increase from 36.3 percent from last year's report.

The highest graduation rates continue to be at four-year private nonprofit institutions, where 71.7 percent of students finished in six years in the most recent analysis, compared with the previous results of 71.5 percent.

This year for the first time, the clearinghouse included dual-enrollment students in its college-completion report. It discovered that 66 percent of dual-enrollment students completed college, compared with 54 percent of students who did not participate in such a program during high school.

Doug Shapiro, the executive research director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said in a phone interview that it was not surprising that these students would be more likely to complete college because they would be among the best students and prepared for the rigors of college. Last year's report did not include these students because they were not considered "first-time" college students. The group, however, makes up about 15 percent of the incoming freshman class, so the clearinghouse researchers felt it was important to include them, he added. Adjustments were made to last year's report to allow for comparisons.

The clearinghouse studies follow student completion anywhere, beyond institutional boundaries, across state lines, and over time. Looking more closely at transfer trends, the new report shows about one-quarter of students finish a degree at an institution other than the one where they first enrolled. By counting students who graduated somewhere other than at their starting institution, completion rates were higher at every institution type and for every student subgroup studied bringing the overall completion rate from 43 to 56 percent. Transferring was an advantage in completion more for students ages 20 and younger than those who started college after age 21.

The clearinghouse found there is a gender gap in completion, with women outpacing men by 6.7 percent in six-year graduation rates.

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