- Nearly 60% of students who entered college in 2013 earned a credential within six years, raising the completion rate to an eight-year high, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC).
- Three major institution types — public and private four-years and public two-years — all reached their highest completion rates since the NSCRC began tracking such data, starting with the 2006 cohort.
- However, completion rates for Hispanic and African-American students still lag that of white and Asian students, and adult students are completing at lower rates than their peers in the traditional college-age range.
The rise in completion rates marks the fourth-straight year of growth, suggesting that "institutional efforts to improve retention, progression and success from the start of each student's college career are increasingly effective," Doug Shapiro, executive director of NSCRC, said in a statement.
Several factors drove the increase, including a lower share of adult and part-time students, who tend to fare worse than their younger and full-time peers, starting college in 2013 compared to the previous year.
Even so, the completion rate of adult students climbed 2.3 percentage points to 45.8%, with significant gains among Hispanic adults, NSCRC found.
To better serve adult learners, colleges are investing more in their online programs' support services, including providing faster responses to student questions and streamlining registration.
"Students don't have a lot of time for administrative tasks," Erika Orris, chief enrollment and marketing officer at the University of Maryland Global Campus, told Education Dive earlier this year.
More students in the 2013 cohort also earned a credential at the first institution they attended, suggesting that efforts to keep students on the path to graduation are paying off, the report notes.
Many community colleges, for example, are seeing promising improvements in their retention and graduation rates after implementing guided pathways, a system in which students try to develop road maps to their careers early in their education.
In many cases, that involves colleges amping up their advising services and rolling out "meta-majors," which group similar programs by field of study to help students wade through the myriad of choices.
Miami Dade College, for example, has closed achievement gaps for students of color by creating program maps, bolstering student supports and overhauling developmental education in the past decade, according to The Aspen Institute.
Such efforts will be particularly important to narrowing persistent completion gaps, which "show little sign of shrinkage," the NSCRC states in its report.
There are some bright spots, however. Hispanic and African-American students of all ages saw substantial gains over the previous year's cohort, outpacing improvements made by Asian and white students over the same time period.