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College-Going Rates Up, Six-Year Completion Down, Report Finds

While high school students are all about what college they want to get into, a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center looks at how many actually finish —and the outcomes vary widely by type of school.

This new research released Tuesday looks at the six-year paths of first-time students enrolled in college in 2008. It draws on a database that tracks 96 percent of the nation's total college enrollment.

The third annual report on college-completion rates finds that 2.7 million students enrolled in college in 2008, an increase of 12 percent from the previous year. The growth is likely linked to the recent recession, which typically drives more students to college, and there was a 20 percent increase in the number of older students, the researchers note.

Yet, of those students, just 55 percent earned a degree or certificate by the fall of 2014, down from 56.1 percent in last year's report. Nearly 15 percent of students were still in school working toward completion, while the rest left higher education with no degree.

The report found the best odds for completion were for students who started at four-year, nonprofit colleges (73.6 percent), up slightly this year and at public, four-year schools where graduation rates were stable at 62.8 percent.

Not so good of a bet was attending a for-profit school where completion rates fell nearly 4 percentage points to 38.4 percent and for students who started a community college where just 39.1 percent finished. Still, more students flocked to community colleges and for-profits during the recession than to other types of postsecondary institutions.

For students who started out at a community college and then transferred to a four-year school, completion rates feel from 17.2 percent to 16.2 percent, according to this year's report.

When looking eight years out, the clearinghouse found that many students do eventually complete a degree with 60.1 percent earning a credential when following the cohort that began in 2006.

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