Lumina Foundation study: Many students fail to complete college with the six year study period

19 Dec

Whether or not students choose college or vocational training at the end of their high school career, our goal as a society should be that children should be “college ready.” David T. Conley writes in the ASCD article, What Makes a Student College Ready?

The Big Four
A comprehensive college preparation program must address four distinct dimensions of college readiness: cognitive strategies, content knowledge, self-management skills, and knowledge about postsecondary education.
Key Cognitive Strategies
Colleges expect their students to think about what they learn. Students entering college are more likely to succeed if they can formulate, investigate, and propose solutions to nonroutine problems; understand and analyze conflicting explanations of phenomena or events; evaluate the credibility and utility of source material and then integrate sources into a paper or project appropriately; think analytically and logically, comparing and contrasting differing philosophies, methods, and positions to understand an issue or concept; and exercise precision and accuracy as they apply their methods and develop their products.
Key Content Knowledge
Several independently conducted research and development efforts help us identify the key knowledge and skills students should master to take full advantage of college. Standards for Success (Conley, 2003) systematically polled university faculty members and analyzed their course documents to determine what these teachers expected of students in entry-level courses. The American Diploma Project (2004) consulted representatives of the business community and postsecondary faculty to define standards in math and English. More recently, both ACT (2008) and the College Board (2006) have released college readiness standards in English and math. Finally, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (2008), under mandate of state law, developed one of the first and most comprehensive sets of state-level college readiness standards….
Key Self-Management Skills
In college, students must keep track of massive amounts of information and organize themselves to meet competing deadlines and priorities. They must plan their time carefully to complete these tasks. They must be able to study independently and in informal and formal study groups. They must know when to seek help from academic support services and when to cut their losses and drop a course. These tasks require self-management, a skill that individuals must develop over time, with considerable practice and trial-and-error.
Key Knowledge About Postsecondary Education
Choosing a college, applying, securing financial aid, and then adjusting to college life require a tremendous amount of specialized knowledge. This knowledge includes matching personal interests with college majors and programs; understanding federal and individual college financial aid programs and how and when to complete appropriate forms; registering for, preparing for, and taking required admissions exams; applying to college on time and submitting all necessary information; and, perhaps most important, understanding how the culture of college is different from that of high school….
Students who would be the first in their family to attend college, students from immigrant families, students who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups traditionally underrepresented in college, and students from low-income families are much more easily thrown off the path to college if they have deficiencies in any of the four dimensions.

The difficult question is whether current testing accurately measures whether students are prepared for college.

The AP reported in the article, Study: 4 in 10 finish college where they start:

WASHINGTON — Fewer than half of all students who entered college in 2007 finished school where they started, and almost a third are no longer taking classes toward a degree anywhere, according to review released Monday.
The dire numbers underscore the challenges that colleges confront as they look to bring in more students and send them out into the world as graduates. The numbers also could complicate matters for students at schools with low graduation rates; the U.S. Department of Education’s still-emerging college rating system is considering linking colleges’ performances with federal financial aid.
Overall, 56 percent of those who started college in 2007 have finished their coursework on any campus, according to the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization that works with colleges to verify students’ enrollment and graduation status.
About 29 percent of those who started college that year are no longer taking classes toward a degree. The researchers also found 43 percent of all students finished their degrees where they started. The number ranges from 67 percent of students who enrolled full time in 2007 to just 19 percent of those who enrolled part time.
Thirteen percent of students who entered college in 2007 finished their degrees at a different school from where they started.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center worked with more than 3,500 schools to review almost 2.4 million records and track students as they transfer among schools.
“Conventional approaches fail to capture the complexity of student behavior because they look only at the starting institution where the student first enrolled,” said Doug Shapiro, the chief at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
The new analysis indicates students who enter private four-year, not-for-profit schools are more likely to finish their degrees than those who pick public four-year or four-year, for-profit schools.
The research also indicates students who were 20 years old or younger when they started their degree in 2007 were more likely to finish their degree than were older classmates. Of those who were 25 or older when they began their studies, 44 percent did not earn a degree and are no longer enrolled in a program. Those older students, however, were a minority of all new students in 2007 by a 5-to-1 margin.
Among all students who started classwork in 2007, female students enjoyed a 7 percentage point advantage over men when it came to whether they had earned a degree in six years.
The numbers stand to complicate life for students and administrators at schools where many leave campus without a degree in hand. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has proposed linking tuition costs, graduation rates and other data to how much federal money each school receives….

Here is the executive summary:

Executive Summary
This second annual report on national college completions rates continues to respond to the limitations of institution-based research by focusing on student-level data, tracking the completion of postsecondary certificates and degrees among first-time degree-seeking students who started their postsecondary education in fall 2007 and tracking their enrollments nationwide for six years, through the spring of 2013. The report also introduces an enhancement to the first Completions Report by including in the cohort students who entered college with prior experience in college-level courses through dual enrollment opportunities while still in high school.
The six-year outcomes examined in this report include completions at students’ starting institutions and transfer institutions, as well as persistence for those who had not earned a degree within six years. The report emphasizes students’ first completions throughout. For students whose first credential was awarded by a two-year institution, however, subsequent completions at four-year institutions are also reported. Six-year outcomes are presented by students’ gender, age, enrollment intensity, and the type of institution where first enrolled. This report expands on the two age groups reported previously by splitting the 24 and under age group into those older and younger than 20 years at the time of entry. We continue to present results for three categories of enrollment intensity: those enrolled exclusively full time throughout the study period, those enrolled exclusively part time, and those with a mix of full-time and part-time enrollments.
The tables and figures presented in this report explore the following:
Six-year outcomes for the fall 2007 cohort overall and broken out by enrollment intensity;
Six-year outcomes by student age at first entry overall and further broken out by enrollment intensity;
Six-year outcomes by type of starting institution overall;
Six-year outcomes by type of starting institution further broken out by age at first entry, enrollment intensity, and gender focusing on the students who started at four types of institutions specifically:
Four-year public institutions,
Two-year public colleges,
Four-year private nonprofit institutions, and
Four-year private for-profit institutions; and also
Certificate and degree completions that occurred at institutions other than students’ starting institution, broken out by location within the same state as the starting institution, outside the state, or at a multistate institution.
For comparison to the 2006 cohort, which was the focus of the 2012 report, this report includes selected results for the fall 2007 cohort excluding former dual enrollment students. A supplemental feature also explores follow-up seven-year outcomes for the fall 2006 cohort.
The patterns revealed in this study reflect both the complexity of students’ postsecondary pathways and the distinctive enrollment behaviors among students following non-traditional pathways. The results suggest that conventional approaches to understanding college effectiveness and student success, limited to students’ enrollment at the starting institution only, fail to fully capture national completion rates. It also demonstrates that, as students attend multiple institutions on the way to their first completion, each of these institutions is likely to have contributed, in its own way, to each student’s pursuit and achievement of their educational goals. The findings help point the way to policies that recognize and promote such student success while also crediting the institutions that contribute to it.
Figure A. Six-Year Outcomes by Enrollment Intensity (N=2,386,291)
Figure A. Six-Year Outcomes by Enrollment Intensity
*This figure is based on data shown in Appendix C, Table 7.
More than a half (56.1 percent) of first-time degree-seeking students who enrolled in fall 2007 completed a degree or certificate within six years, including 13.1 percent who completed at an institution other than their starting institution. Completion rates varied considerably depending on enrollment intensity (Figure A) ranging from about 22 percent for exclusively part-time students to 77.7 percent among exclusively full-time students. Six years is sufficient for most exclusively part time students to complete a two-year degree, of course, but not a four-year degree. Nonetheless, only 11 percent of the exclusively part-time students were still enrolled or persisting during the final year of the study.
Figure B. Six-Year Outcomes by Starting Institution Type
Figure B. Six-Year Outcomes by Starting Institution Type
*This figure is based on data shown in Appendix C, Table 14.
The total completion rates for students who started at each of the three largest institution categories ranged from 40 percent for students who started at two-year public institutions to 63 percent for those who started at four-year public institutions and 73 percent for students who started at four-year private nonprofit institutions (Figure B). The proportion of students completing elsewhere, however, was roughly the same for students who started at any of these three largest institution types – about 13 to 14 percent of the starting cohort.
Comprehensive Completion Rates Beyond the Starting Institution
Accounting for completions beyond the starting institution raises the overall six-year completion rate above the halfway point, from 43 percent to 56 percent. Nationwide, nearly one in four students who completed a degree or certificate (23.4 percent) did so at an institution different from where they first enrolled. That figure was slightly higher (24.7 percent) for traditional-age students and was one in three (33.6 percent) for students who started in public two-year institutions. Accounting for these mobile students increased the completion rate for every institution type and student subgroup we studied. The increases ranged from 3 percentage points for exclusively part-time students to 11 percentage points for exclusively full-time students and 16 percentage points for students who attended both full time and part time during the six years.
Completion Rates Across Age Groups
Figure C. Six-Year Outcomes by Age at First Entry (N=2,373,802)
Figure C. Six-Year Outcomes by Age at First Entry (N=2,373,802)NOTE: Student with gender data missing were excluded from the above figure. This figure is based on data shown in Appendix C, Table 9.
In this study we introduced a new age category, hypothesizing that the outcomes of students who delayed entry by just a few years after high school would be different from those of traditional-age students and adult learners. We found that the persistence and completion rates for this group were notably lower than those of students in the traditional-age group, more closely resembling instead those of adult learners who entered college after age 24.
Gains from completions at institutions other than the starting institution were greater for students age 20 or younger at first entry into college than they were for older students: 14.7 percentage points, compared to 8.4 and 6.8 percentage points for the delayed entry and adult learner groups, respectively (Figure C). This left a sizable gap between the overall six-year completion rates of traditional-age students and adult learners, with the latter having a much lower total completion rate (43.5 percent vs. 59.7 percent). The total completion rate was lower still (40.8 percent) for delayed entry students. Disaggregating results by both age and enrollment intensity showed that exclusively part-time students over age 24 actually had a higher completion rate than did part-time students in either of the two younger age groups, contrary to the trend for full-time and mixed enrollment students. An important takeaway from these findings is that institutions may want to consider differentiated approaches appropriate to students who delay entry as well as for traditional age students and adult learners.
Compared to those of younger students, the success rates of adult learners varied greatly depending on the type of institution they attended. Full-time students who started at four-year private for-profit institutions, for example, completed at their starting institution at a rate more than 17 percentage points higher than their traditional-age counterparts. This pattern was reversed, however, for adult learners who started at any other type of institution, where full-time adult learners completed at lower rates than traditional-age students. These findings suggest that adult learners may be engaged differently across institutional contexts. Institutions in each of these sectors may benefit from comparing the outcomes of their own students to those of national and sector benchmarks, and perhaps adjusting their strategies for supporting adult learners to address their particular patterns of success.
Six-Year Outcomes by Gender
This report introduces data on student gender to the Clearinghouse’s measurement of completion rates, providing a new tool for understanding trends in student success that was not available in our 2012 report. Overall six-year completion rates for the fall 2007 national cohort showed a gender gap of 6.7 percentage points in favor of women. However, when results were disaggregated by age at first entry the advantage to women was concentrated among traditional-age students, with relatively small to nonexistent gaps among older students. When examined across institution types, the advantage of women among traditional-age students remained consistent, but other patterns emerged among older students. For example, the six-year completion rate for women adult learners who started at four-year public institutions was slightly lower than that for their male counterparts.
Four-Year Completions for First-Time Students Who Started at Two-Year Public Institutions
For students who started at two-year public institutions we examined the overall completion rates as well as completions at four-year institutions, giving particular attention to whether they received their four-year degree with or without first earning a credential at a two-year institution. Overall, 17.1 percent of two-year starters completed a degree at a four-year institution by the end of the study period, and over half of these did so without first obtaining a two-year degree. These students transferred and graduated from a four-year institution without receiving any credential from their starting (or from any other) two-year institution. Traditional graduation rate measures that focus only on completions at the starting institution do not account for this type of outcome, even though it is a well-worn pathway receiving increasing attention in today’s resource-constrained policy environment.
Completion Rates for Dual Enrollment Students
As an enhancement to the first Completions Report, this report introduces a larger study cohort by including former dual enrollment students, first-time college students who had enrolled in college courses while still in high school. When these students were added to the cohort, the overall completion rate jumped from 54 percent to 56 percent. Analysis of the postsecondary outcomes of former dual enrollment students showed a completion rate of 66 percent for this group, 12 percentage points higher than the rate for students with no prior dual enrollment experience. This descriptive study cannot speak to the effectiveness of dual enrollment programs per se, since there are undoubtedly strong selection effects in the sample of students who participate in these programs for which the data in this report does not account. Nonetheless, the results show that including students with prior dual enrollments in the starting cohort clearly increases the observed national college completion rate.
Seven-Year Outcomes for Fall 2006 National Cohort
Finally, this report looks at seven-year outcomes for the fall 2006 cohort, tracking their enrollment patterns through spring 2013. Within seven years, 43.7 percent of this cohort completed at their starting institution, while an additional 14.4 percent completed at a different institution, for a total completion rate of 58.1 percent nationally – a 4 percentage point increase over the six-year rate reported in our 2012 report. The largest increase was among students with mixed enrollment, whose total completion rate increased by 5.6 percentage points with the additional year. The seventh year of tracking also captured a larger proportion of completions for mobile students, who can often take longer to finish degrees. Nearly one quarter (24.7 percent) of the completers had earned their first credential somewhere other than their starting institution, compared to 22.4 percent of the same cohort when measured at the six-year point. These results suggest that tracking students for a longer period better captures outcomes for non-traditional students, such as those with mixed enrollments and multiple institutions in their pathways to the degree.
Exploring college completions at the student level provides an alternate, more comprehensive view of student progress and success in U.S. postsecondary education that captures the complexity of students’ postsecondary pathways. Moving in this direction can facilitate a shift in public and institutional policies that acknowledges and responds to student pathways that include institutional mobility, part-time and mixed enrollment, a gender gap that varies by age, and entry into college at different ages and life circumstances. This kind of shift will, moreover, allow policymakers to measure and credit the contributions of institutions that serve students who transfer or who enroll part time.
As higher education policy increasingly focuses on measuring student outcomes, it is important to ensure that we capture the full range of student enrollment, persistence, and completion behaviors. The findings highlighted in this report show the value and power of using comprehensive national student-level data, such as used for this report.


Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates – Fall 2007 Cohort
This second annual report on national college completions rates continues to respond to the limitations of institution-based research by focusing on student-level data, tracking the completion of postsecondary certificates and degrees among first-time degree-seeking students who started their postsecondary education in fall 2007 and tracking their enrollments nationwide for six years, through the spring of 2013. The report also introduces an enhancement to the first Completions Report by including in the cohort students who entered college with prior experience in college-level courses through dual enrollment opportunities while still in high school.
National Student Clearinghouse Research Center
• Doug Shapiro
• Afet Dundar
Project on Academic Success, Indiana University
• Mary Ziskin
• Xin Yuan
• Autumn Harrell
The authors would like to thank Peter Ewell and Patrick Kelly, of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), for their thoughtful comments and suggestions; Robin LaSota, Post-Doctoral Research Associate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for her assistance with writing and editing sections of the report; Vijaya Sampath, Jason DeWitt, and Diana Gillum from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center for their work to make the Clearinghouse data analysis-ready and sharing their deep knowledge of the data with the authors; and the members of the Project on Academic Success team, Youngsik Hwang and Sarah Martin, for their efforts and thoughtful comments. Of course, any remaining errors or omissions are solely the responsibility of the authors.
This report was supported by a grant from the Lumina Foundation. Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based private foundation, is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college — especially 21st century students: low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners. Lumina’s goal is to increase the percentage of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina pursues this goal in three ways: by identifying and supporting effective practice, through public policy advocacy, and by using our communications and convening power to build public will for change. For more information, log on to

K-12 education must not only prepare students by teaching basic skills, but they must prepare students for training after high school, either college or vocational. There should not only be a solid education foundation established in K-12, but there must be more accurate evaluation of whether individual students are “college ready.”


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