Ups, downs in undergraduate degree completion

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The number of undergraduate-level credential earners started to increase after a pandemic-induced standstill.

In the 2020-21 academic year, the total number of undergraduate credential earners increased by 1.1% (or 39,000) to 3.7 million graduates. That’s based on the National Student Clearinghouse’s Undergraduate Degree Earners Report, Academic Year 2020-21.  

The growth was fueled by students earning non-first-time graduates, particularly bachelor’s degree earners, including 22,000 additional baccalaureates with a prior associate degree, according to the report’s authors. However, “first-time graduates as a whole had no growth,” said Mikyung Ryu, director of research publications for the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

“This implies a growing dichotomy of the haves and have-nots in postsecondary attainment,” Ryu added.

There was growth among associate-degree earners, ticking up .3% after a 3.7% drop the year prior. But the number of certificate earners fell 2.6%, continuing a downward trend.

Another finding: college students under the age of 25 continued to “decline in first-time associate degree and certificate completion,” according to the report.

In contrast, non-traditional-age first-time graduates (25 and older) increased by 1.4%. This was driven largely by a 4.3% growth of graduates in their 30s. Despite this growth, students 25 and older earning their first undergraduate credential are still below pre-pandemic levels.

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