Some students’ paths to the bachelor’s degree involved more stops along the way than those of other students. Forty-one percent of first-time bachelor’s degree recipients in 19992000 reported having enrolled in only one undergraduate institution. An additional 35 percent of all graduates attended two institutions, 16 percent attended three institutions, and 8 percent attended at least four institutions during their undergraduate years. About one-fifth of 19992000 first-time bachelor’s degree recipients had obtained a certificate or an associate’s degree prior to completing the bachelor’s degree (2 percent had a certificate, and 17 percent had an associate’s degree). In addition, many students took at least 4 months off from postsecondary enrollment before completing the degree. While a majority (64 percent) of 19992000 first-time bachelor’s degree recipients did not stop out, 11 percent took off 411 months, 6 percent took off 1223 months, 4 percent took off 2435 months, and 16 percent interrupted their enrollment for at least 36 months.
Most students who decide to enroll in college do so within 1 year of completing high school (U.S. Department of Education 2001). For those who delay entering college, however, the time to bachelor’s degree completion might be reflected more accurately in the time between entering postsecondary education and completing a bachelor’s degree. This report examined three time periods: the time between high school completion and postsecondary entry, the time between high school completion and bachelor’s degree completion, and the time between postsecondary entry and bachelor’s degree completion.
A majority (83 percent) of first-time bachelor’s degree recipients in 19992000 enrolled in college less than 1 year after they had completed high school.2 Six percent took 12 years to enroll in college, and another 5 percent took 25 years to do so. Another 6 percent did not enroll in postsecondary education until at least 5 years after they had completed high school. Compared with 199293 bachelor’s degree recipients, 19992000 college graduates were less likely to enroll in college within 1 year of finishing high school (83 vs. 90 percent).
When considering the total time that elapsed between completing high school and finishing the bachelor’s degree, one-third (33 percent) of first-time bachelor’s degree recipients in 19992000 completed a bachelor’s degree within 4 years of their high school graduation.3 Another 23 percent took 45 years, 11 percent took 56 years, and 15 percent took 610 years to do so. About one-fifth (19 percent) took even longer after high school to finish college.
Taking into account the delayed entry of many students and examining only the time between postsecondary entry and bachelor’s degree completion, about two-fifths (39 percent) of 19992000 first-time bachelor’s degree recipients took 4 years or less to complete a bachelor’s degree, and 72 percent finished in 6 years or less.4 Fourteen percent took more than 10 years to do so. However, compared with 199293 bachelor’s degree completers, the 19992000 cohort was more likely to complete the degree in 4 years or less (39 vs. 35 percent) and less likely to take 45 years between postsecondary entry and graduation (24 vs. 28 percent). (See figure)
A final component of the analysis was restricted to first-time bachelor’s degree recipients who had not interrupted their postsecondary enrollment longer than 6 months. The average time between postsecondary entry and bachelor’s degree completion for these graduates was 4 years and 7 months (55 months),5 and it was longer for graduates of public institutions (57 months) than for graduates of private not-for-profit institutions (51 months).
A number of other factors were related to the average amount of time between postsecondary entry and degree completion. Parents’ educational attainment was inversely related to students’ time to degree: as parents’ education increased, students’ average time to complete a degree decreased. In addition, there was an inverse relationship between students’ cumulative grade-point average and the time it took them to finish a degree. This relationship was found both overall and for graduates of public institutions, but no difference was detected for graduates of private not-for-profit institutions. Delaying enrollment in postsecondary education after completing high school was also associated with the time it took students to complete a bachelor’s degree once they enrolled: students who delayed entry took longer to complete a degree once enrolled. Finally, those who enrolled in more institutions took longer to complete a degree, even when graduates who had extended enrollment interruptions between institutions were excluded. For example, graduates who attended only one institution completed the degree in an average of 4 years and 3 months (51 months), while those who attended two institutions took about 8 months longer, on average (59 months).