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It Can Take a While, But Most Students Finish College, Federal Data Show

Here's some cheerful news to start the New Year: Reports of low college completion rates may be giving up on college students too soon. New data released by the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System suggest a significant portion of students do finish college degrees and professional certificates—in double the traditional time allotted for those programs.

IPEDS, a program by the National Center on Education Statistics, collected data about more than 21 million students at 7,400 public and private colleges and universities that participated in federal student financial aid programs in 2012-13. This year NCES added an expanded graduation rate, which measures the number of students who complete a degree program in double the normal length of time—for example, to get an extended 2012 graduation rate, four-year colleges would look at the incoming class of 2004, while two-year programs would track students who entered in 2008.

None of this means educators can stop being concerned about high school students' college and career readiness, of course; you can build up an awfully big student-loan debt in eight years, and that may cut into the longterm value of a degree or certificate even if a student completes it. But it does mean that college students can be more determined and resilient than policymakers sometimes give them credit for, and it highlights the potential benefits of postsecondary programs structured (and priced!) for more longterm students.

Want more research news? Follow @SarahDSparks on Twitter for the latest studies, and join the conversation.

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