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Is the College Completion Target Too Ambitious?

College completion efforts are not yet meeting expectations, but it may have more to do with the measurement than the reality.

The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center reports higher education completion rates among overall American students this year have remained the same. According to a preview report, only 54.2 percent of students who enrolled in postsecondary institutions in fall 2007 earned a credential within six years, up 0.1 percent from the 2006 cohort. NSC Research Center also reports that part-time students who enrolled in fall 2007 have a graduation rate of only 21.9 percent.

The issue, according to the report’s authors, is not exclusively representing the persistence of students but also the metric used to measure graduation.

“As we noted in the previous completion study, six years is not an adequate time frame for capturing completions of students who enroll exclusively part time,” says the report. “The results underscore the need to continue to follow these students over longer periods in order to obtain definitive degree outcomes.”

The issue affects non-traditional learners as well as part-time students. According to the NSC Research Center, the 2007 cohort of adult learners achieved a graduation rate of only 29.2 percent, regardless of whether they transferred institutions through their academic process. However, on top of only recording graduations of students who completed their degree in six years, the official graduation rate metric discounts students who transfer institutions in the middle of their degree programs. As such, the graduation rate for the 2007 cohort of adult students is much lower.

It is expected that the NSC Research Center will release their full report in December 2013 with additional findings.