New data has shown a steep decline in the number of US students who are earning their qualifications within the first six years of enrolling at university.
The fourth annual report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center provides insight to the six-year outcomes for students who began postsecondary education in autumn, 2009.
Students who participated in the study formed the surge of increased enrolments that accompanied the Recession of 2008, arriving on campus at a time when higher education institutions were already dealing with reduced public budget support.
One such consequence of the lack of funding was that universities were forced to hike the cost of tuition, leaving both students and their families with a significant hole in their finances, and prompting questions regarding the growing levels of student debt and how this could influence rates of course completion at US universities.
The non-profit tracked 96 percent of students across the nation, and found that the overall national rate of completion for students who started college in the fall of 2009 was 52.9 percent, down 2.1 percent from the previous year’s cohort, and twice the rate of decline that was observed in the report from 2007-2008. According to the Clearinghouse, this rate of decline will continue to accelerate.
At 73.7 percent, students enrolled on full-time courses completed them at much higher rates than those on part-time courses, whose figure stood at 19.7 percent, as well as their mixed enrolment counterparts, whose rate of completion was 42.2 percent.
Among exclusively part-time students, only 8.2 percent of students were still enrolled at the end of the study period, leaving 72.1 percent of part-time students no longer enrolled come the end of the study. This pattern remained consistent when outcomes were determined by age at the first point of entry.
More than one-third of students partaking in mixed enrolments took place at a university that was different from where they started. Overall, higher completion rates were observed among female than male students, whose figures stood at 53.6 percent and 49.6 percent, respectively.
Compared to the cohort from the 2007 study, the 2008 student cohort was 12 percent larger, with a greater number of mature students and a higher share of students enrolled on part-time courses. Six years later and the overall completion rate for the 2008 cohort had dropped one point, from 56.1 percent to 55.0 percent.
This year, the overall student cohort was larger still, with 2.9 million students; 8 percent more than figures from the previous year. There was even higher growth in numbers of mature students (over 24 at first point of entry), recording 24 percent more than in fall 2008. The share of students enrolling in less than full-time courses increased by half a percentage point, while numbers enrolling at community college swelled by 1.3 percent.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the end of the Recession came in June 2009, but the recent study demonstrates the effects on employment, wages and family finances that continue to impact students, colleges and universities through to the present day.
“These results should not be taken as an indication that the considerable efforts to drive improvement in student outcomes at the institutional, state and federal levels have been ineffective,” the report states, “Indeed, one might easily conclude that without them the declines could have been even worse for particular types of students or institutions, given the demographic and economic forces at play.”
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