The average completion rate for community colleges continues its upward trend, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center.
While the overall national postsecondary education six-year completion rate for the fall 2016 cohort (62.3%) is essentially unchanged from the 2015 cohort (62.2%), and the rate for public four-year institutions has dropped from 69% to 68%, the community college completion rate increased 0.9 percentage points to 43.1%, even as their cohort size continued to shrink, the report says.
The community college sector has seen its completion rate steadily increase over the years, rising annually since the 2011 cohort year.
The NSC Research Center added the caveat that some institutional reclassifications in data affected the community college rate. The center observed that between 2015 and 2016, 25 public two-year institutions were reclassified as four-year institutions — primarily associate-degree-granting bachelor’s institutions. Reclassification had occurred previously, but the center took a closer look because of the larger number of colleges affected in 2016 by the reclassification. Without the reclassifications, the community college rate would have been 42.6%, up 0.4 percentage points instead of 0.9, the center said.
The same reclassification contributed to the lower rate for public four-year institutions. That sector would have seen an increase of 0.4 percent points, to 69.4%, without the recategorization, rather than a -1.0 percentage-point drop, the center said.
The NSC Research Center’s report is part of a series that looks at six-year completion rates nationally and by state by tracking enrollment and completion outcomes for the fall 2016 cohort of beginning college students through June 2022.
Among states, completion rate increases at community colleges were driven by boosts across 30 states. Four states (South Dakota, Kentucky, New Hampshire and West Virginia) saw their rate grow by more than 2.5 percentage points compared to fall 2015. Completion rates declined in 12 states, with the largest declines in North Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin. States where institutions were reclassified saw minimal community college impacts, the report says.
The report also shows an increase in community college completion rates among all races/ethnicities, ages and genders, though the center again notes the reclassification contributed to higher rates. Asian students had the highest six-year completion rate at community colleges for the 2016 cohort (53.4%), followed by white students (50.6%), then Native American (38.8%), Lantix (37.9%) and Black students (31.1%).
The center noted that the reclassification also affected headcounts in its research. Community colleges saw starter headcounts drop by 23,000 (-3.1%) under the reclassification. If the students had not been recategorized to the public four-year sector, community college headcounts would have increased by 20,000, it said.
The NSC Research Center noted that future iterations of the report will track these reclassified community colleges in a separate category of “primarily associate-granting four-years.”