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The New Reality for College Students: Earning a Bachelor’s Degree Takes 5 to 6 Years and Students Attend Multiple Institutions

by | Sep 19, 2016 | Research Services |

Today’s college student earns his or her bachelor’s degree in five to six years, according to a new nationwide report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The Research Center analyzed the college pathways of more than two million students who completed an associate or bachelor’s degree in 2014-15, regardless of how long it took them to finish.

This report, “Time to Degree,” captures all associate and bachelor’s degree earners, regardless of how long it took them, and provides a comprehensive view of student success overall, in particular, non-traditional students. By looking backward to identify enrollment patterns well beyond the standard time limits of 150 percent of normal program length, the report captures a more complete picture of student experiences, including many who didn’t finish until long after the official graduation rates stopped being counted.

“Today’s student enrollment patterns are markedly different from what has long been perceived as normal, and these non-traditional behaviors have a dramatic effect on time to degree,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Research Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Each additional term or semester has the potential to increase the cost to the student, both through foregone earnings and additional tuition expenses. Yet, spells of part-time enrollment and non-enrollment often enable students to mitigate these effects by combining earning and learning. Families and policymakers need to plan accordingly for this new reality.”

The data for this report were drawn from the StudentTracker® and DegreeVerify℠ services administered by the National Student Clearinghouse®, which tracks more than 3,600 postsecondary institutions and 96 percent of college enrollments nationwide across all postsecondary institutions, including: two-year and four-year institutions, public and private institutions, and nonprofit and for-profit institutions.

Read the press release to learn more.

“Families and policymakers need to plan accordingly for this new reality.”

Doug Shapiro
Executive Research Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

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