Hitting 40% completion

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The completion rate of public two-year college students has reached 40 percent for the first time since the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center started tracking such data.

The six-year completion rate of students who entered two-year colleges in 2013 hit 40.8 percent, according to a new report from the center. The six-year rates for the previous years’ cohort were 39.2 percent (2012 cohort) and 37.5 percent (2011 cohort).

Among the other higher education sectors, private nonprofit institutions had the highest six-year completion rate in the 2013 cohort at 76.5 percent, followed by 66.7 percent at public four-year colleges and universities, and 42.2 percent among private, for-profit four-year institutions.

“The college completion rate has been on a steady rise since the 2009 cohort year as the post-recession cohorts of first-time beginning undergraduates have trended younger and more full-time,” Doug Shapiro, the center’s executive director, said in a statement. “In addition, the results suggest that institutional efforts to improve retention, progression and success from the start of each student’s college career are increasingly effective.”

The NCS Research Center’s national completion rate counts all students who enter postsecondary education for the first time each year, enrolling full-time or part-time at two-year or four-year institutions, and completing at any U.S. degree-granting institution. It collects data from more than 3,600 postsecondary institutions, representing about 97 percent of the nation’s postsecondary enrollments in degree-granting institutions.

The center’s state-by-state completion rates for the 2013 cohort will be available in the spring.

A look at majors

For the first time, the report includes analysis of majors at graduation, which shows some racial/ethnic and gender disparities.

In a new analysis on the graduates’ major fields, the center found that of nearly 50 college major fields broadly defined by the U.S. Department of Education’s Classification of Instructional Programs, the 10 most common major fields account for 69 percent of the students who started postsecondary education in fall 2013 and graduated within six years of enrolling.

Particularly for students earning associate degrees and certificates, the choice of majors often comes down to two to three fields. One out of every two certificate earners (51 percent) majored in the following three fields: health professions and related clinical sciences (30 percent); business, management, marketing and related support (11 percent), and liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities (11 percent).

For associate-degree earners, nearly one in two (47 percent) has the same major field — liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities — followed by business, management, marketing, and related support (10 percent) and health professions and related clinical sciences (10 percent).

For public two-year starters, liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities is the most popular major for every race and ethnicity, followed by health and business majors (which trade second and third place among the categories). However, different majors emerge for each racial/ethnic group in the fourth and fifth most popular choices: vocationally oriented technical fields such as security and protective services, or mechanic and repair technologies/technicians for African-American, Hispanic and white students, while computer and information sciences and support services is the fourth popular major for Asians.

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