How many college students graduate?

Despite major efforts to improve U.S. college graduation rates, progress appears to have stalled.

According to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, six-year graduation rates for students who started college in 2007 remained flat compared with the previous year. Only fifty-six percent of students who enrolled as first-time students six years ago have earned either a degree or a certificate. That’s the same graduation rate for students who started college in 2006.

Not surprisingly, the students who were most likely to obtain a degree or certificate within six years attended college full-time (78 percent). In contrast, the students attending college part-time had a much lower chance (22 percent) of obtaining a certificate or degree.

Despite the obvious advantage of attending college full-time, just 41 percent of students who began college in 2007 attended college exclusively full-time. Among traditional-aged college students, just 44 percent attended college full-time. Many individuals can’t afford to be full-time students, but others  believe that mixing work and college is the best and cheapest approach.

Starting at a community college

With college costs continuing to exceed inflation, many families are exploring whether to start their children at less expensive community colleges. But the report illustrates the potential drawback to this strategy. Only 17 percent of students who began at two-year schools ended up completing a degree at a four-year institution within the six-year period.

For the first time, the Clearinghouse also included grad rates for “dual-enrollment” students, those who took college-level classes while still in high school. A growing number of teenagers are taking college classes either at their own high schools or on college campuses for dual credit. These students, who attended college full time, posted the best six-year grad rate at 85.4 percent.

The report also documented what higher-ed administrators have known for a long time. Students bounce around. Nearly one out of four college students completed a degree or certificate at an institution other than the one where they started.