What a difference a few years can make

Community college advocates have long argued that taking a broader snapshot of public two-year college students’ completion rates — for certificates, associate degrees and baccalaureates — beyond the typical two or three years would show that the rates rise over time. The rates continue to increase substantially even when extended to eight years, a new study shows. 

The completion rate for public two-year college starters for the fall 2010 cohort increased 6 percentage points, from 39 percent at the end of six years to 45 percent at the end of eight years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Researchers examined completion rates of students (including those who transfer) at public two- and four-year institutions who earn associate degrees, baccalaureates and certificates over six and eight years. The study reflects that many community college students take longer to graduate as they tend to work, raise families and face other obstacles, according to education advocates.

“Outcomes that truncate time to completion or focus on a single institution often underestimate the extent of student success — particularly the diverse population of students who attend community colleges,” said Kent Phillippe, associate vice president for research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges.

Public two-year starters had the highest proportion of completions at a different institution (about 37 percent of all completions) by the end of eight years in comparison to four-year public (24 percent) and four-year private nonprofit starters (20 percent), the study showed.

The study also examined completion rates by race and ethnicity. Again, the rates increased when extending the window from six years and to eight years, with Asian students having the highest overall completion rate increase among two- and four-year colleges, followed by Hispanic students.

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