December 13, 2022
On-time completion rates for college students ticked up across most U.S. states from 2016 to 2021, according to a new report from Complete College America, a nonprofit aiming to improve postsecondary attainment.
Improvements varied considerably. On-time completion rates for four-year college students in Hawaii rose from 18% to 30% over the period. Meanwhile, rates for four-year college students in Virginia grew by a smaller amount, rising from 52% to 57%.
The report also unearthed widespread disparities between student groups. Part-time students at both four-year and community colleges are much less likely to graduate within six years than full-time students, signaling a need for colleges to better support this group, according to Complete College America.
The report offers promising news to the higher education sector, which has long struggled with getting students to complete bachelor’s and associate degrees within their prescribed four- and two-year timeframes. In most states, less than half of students attending either four-year institutions or community colleges graduate on time.
New Mexico, for example, has one of the lowest on-time graduation rates for four-year college students, with only 25% completing their credential on time in 2021. But that’s a significant improvement from 14% in 2016.
The Complete College America report credits recent reforms adopted by states and college systems for those kinds of completion gains. The nonprofit formed an alliance of colleges adopting several policies, including moving away from remedial coursework and using multiple measures in course placement, rather than relying on high-stakes exams.
The alliance counts more than half of U.S. states as members, as well as other groups. Its analysis looked at how completion rates have changed across Complete College America members who joined the alliance before 2018. That includes the City University of New York system.