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More Start, Fewer Finish College


Despite decades of steadily climbing college enrollment rates, the percentage of students earning a degree or certificate on time has barely budged, a new study reveals.

Equipping high school students with the knowledge and skills to emerge “college and career ready” has been the goal of education reform movements nationwide. That’s because a majority of jobs will demand some post-secondary education.  Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, for example, estimates that more than half the jobs in 2018 will require at least a bachelor’s degree. Not surprisingly, record numbers of high school students are taking the SAT, with roughly 70 percent going directly to two- or four-year institutions upon graduation.

The new report from Complete College America, an education advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., indicates there is a huge gap between enrolling in college and earning a certificate or degree, however. The study, Time Is The Enemy, includes data from 33 states on students who are older, enrolled part-time (about 40 percent of public college students), or in certificate programs to paint a more comprehensive picture of college completion rates than previously available.

The numbers are bleak. Overall, it takes full-time students an average of 3.8 years to finish a two-year associate’s degree program, and 4.7 years to earn a bachelor’s degree. Half of all freshmen seeking associate’s degrees need remedial courses.

The state-by-state breakdowns indicate that many students struggle to cross the finish line. Of every 100 students in Texas who enrolled in a public college, 79 started at a community college and only two earned a two-year degree on time. That number increased to 7 after four years. Of the 21 who entered a four-year college, five graduated on time, and after eight years, just 13 had earned a degree.

Because of gaps in federal statistics, students who enroll part time or transfer have been nearly invisible,  Stan Jones, the president of Complete College America, told the New York Times (9/27). “We know they enroll, but we don’t know what happens to them,” he said. “We shouldn’t make policy based on the image of students going straight from high school to college, living on campus, and graduating four years later, when the majority of college students don’t do that.”

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