EPI's weekly illustration of education data trends — May 17, 2017

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How Much does Extra Time Improve Graduation Rates?


There is an old argument about the importance of giving students more time to complete their degree program. The argument goes that students—especially those who are first generation or historically underrepresented in higher education—need more than four years to complete a four-year bachelor's degree. But is this true?

The data below come from the Fall 2015 IPEDS data collection via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a division of the US Department of Education. The conclusion is clear: the completion/graduation rates for students improve significantly with an extra two years of study (four to six years). HOWEVER, a very insignificant percentage of students increase their completion rates after six years. Thus, extra time seems to matter greatly for many students, but there is a statue of limitations on the increase.

A deeper cut illustrates that the four-year (on time) graduation rate for students at all institutions is 39 percent, increasing to 59 percent after six years, but only increasing another 3 percent at eight years. For students at public institutions, the on-time rate is 34 percent, rising to 58 percent at six years and 61 percent at eight years. For four-year, not-for-profit institutions, the on-time rates is 53 percent, rising to 65 percent at six years and 66 percent at eight years.

Thus, four-year private, not-for-profit institutions have better on-time rates than the other sectors, but the overall rate could be considered marginal when compared to public institutions (66 vs. 61 percent).

SOURCE: Ginder, S.A., Kelly-Reid, J.E., and Mann, F.B. (2016). Graduation Rates for Selected Cohorts, 2007–12; Student Financial Aid, Academic Year 2014–15; Admissions in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2015: First Look (Provisional Data) (NCES 2017-084). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved [date] from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch.