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A Descriptive Summary of
1992-93 Bachelor's Degree Recipients
One Year Later

With an Essay on Time to Degree

August 1996

(NCES 96-158) Ordering information

The following statistical report includes an essay on time to degree from A Descriptive Summary of 1992-93 Bachelor's Degree Recipients One Year Later. A full copy of this statistical report is available in portable document format (Adobe Acrobat PDF). You need the Acrobat Reader software to view these files.

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For questions about the content of this report, please contact Paula Knepper at Paula.Knepper@ed.gov.


Introduction

In academic year 1992-93, more than 1.1 million students received bachelor's degrees from 1,809 U.S. institutions of higher education. A nationally representative sample of that population, consisting of 10,080 students attending 648 institutions, was surveyed in their last year of college and again 1 year after graduation.[1] This report uses those data to provide a detailed profile of the population of 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients, with particular attention to the amount of time taken to complete the degree, an issue of intense interest to students, parents, policymakers, and administrators.

[1] Digest of Education Statistics, 1995 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, , 1995), tables 243 and 250.

In recent years, the amount of time required to complete a bachelor's degree has attracted considerable attention as rising costs have increased the financial burden of undergraduate education on families and taxpayers (through their support of public institutions and state and federal financial aid programs). Delays in degree completion can be problematic for the individual, the institution, and society. For instance, individual costs involve additional tuition, foregone income while enrolled, and reduced long-term earning potential; institutional costs involve reduced ability to forecast future enrollment and to meet new enrollment demand, because of fewer spaces for new students; and social costs involve reduced efficiency of public investment in higher education, since it takes longer to realize returns on public dollars invested in support of undergraduate education.

A Profile of 1992-93 Bachelor's Degree Recipients

This section presents a brief sketch of the characteristics of 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients, including tables and figures describing the population according to a number of key characteristics: gender, race-ethnicity, age at degree receipt, and types of institutions attended. This profile is included to provide the reader with a basic description of the population on which this and subsequent B&B reports will be based.

Gender and race-ethnicity

Since academic year 1984-85, a majority of bachelor's degrees awarded by U.S. institutions of higher education have been earned by women, whose share of the total has gradually increased since then.[2] In 1992-93, 55 percent of all bachelor's degree recipients were women (table 1 and figure 1), as were two-thirds (68 percent) of those who received the degree at age 40 or older. Most majors in education, the health professions, and psychology were women (79, 75, and 74 percent, respectively), while men predominated among engineering majors (86 percent) (figure 2).[3]

[2] Digest of Education Statistics, 1995 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, , 1995), table 256.
[3] Compendium table I.10 presents data on the distribution of majors.

Graduates' scores on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the American College Testing Program examination (ACT) were available for about two-thirds of the B&B sample (68 percent).[4] Scores on each exam were converted to quartile ranks among B&B participants who took each test, and these were then combined into a single quartile score (see appendix A). Among graduates who took the SAT or ACT, the top quartile contained a larger proportion of men than did other quartiles, while the bottom quartile contained proportionally more women. This pattern was reversed with respect to achievement in college, however: there were proportionally more women among those with a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.5 or above than among those with lower GPAs. The gender difference in overall college grades persists after controlling for age at entry, and also after controlling for major (except among majors in history, engineering, biological sciences, and mathematics and other sciences) (table 2). [5]

[4] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System. The remaining 32 percent consists of graduates who did not take an entrance examination (11 percent), and those who took an examination but did not report a score or whose examination status was unknown (21 percent). Scores were drawn from institutional records if possible, and self-reported if not available from institutional records.
[5] Self-reported GPAs.

Table 1-Percentage distribution of bachelor's degree recipients according to gender and race-ethnicity, by selected student characteristics: 1992-93

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Gender                             Race-ethnicity
                                                          American
                                                          Indian/  Asian/    Black,              White,
                                                          Alaskan  Pacific    non-                non-
                                     Male   Female        Native   Islander  Hispanic  Hispanic  Hispanic
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
       Total                         45.3   54.7          0.6      4.9       6.1       5.1       83.3
Baccalaureate degree major
 Professional fields                 44.8   55.2          0.6      4.4       6.3       4.8       84.0
  Business and management            53.8   46.2          0.6      4.6       7.6       4.4       82.8
  Education                          21.4   78.6          0.6      2.0       3.8       4.4       89.2
  Engineering                        86.3   13.7          0.3      9.8       4.1       4.3       81.5
  Health professions                 25.3   74.7          0.7      4.2       6.4       5.6       83.1
  Public affairs/social services     40.5   59.5          0.3      2.1      10.5       8.4       78.7
 Arts and sciences                   47.2   52.8          0.5      6.1       6.0       5.6       81.8
  Biological sciences                51.9   48.1          0.3      8.2       6.7       5.9       78.9
  Mathematics and other
  sciences                           59.8   40.2          0.4     10.5       6.8       4.5       77.9
  Social science                     49.1   50.9          0.6      5.3       6.9       5.1       82.2
  History                            60.3   39.7          0.3      3.9       2.5       1.5       91.8
  Humanities                         40.6   59.4          0.7      5.4       4.6       6.4       82.9
  Psychology                         26.3   73.7          0.2      1.3       7.2       8.5       82.8
 Other                               42.7   57.3          0.8      4.0       6.0       4.7       84.7
Age received bachelor's degree
 Under 23                            40.4   59.6          0.3      4.6       5.7       3.6       85.8
 23-24                               54.9   45.1          0.3      7.1       5.4       5.7       81.5
 25-29                               55.4   44.6          0.8      4.2       6.3       8.2       80.5
 30-39                               41.1   58.9          1.4      4.0       8.0       6.7       79.8
 40 or older                         31.9   68.1          1.6      1.6       7.7       4.8       84.2
Entrance examination score quartile
 Bottom 25%                          40.7   59.3          0.5      2.7      12.5       6.4       77.9
 Middle 50%                          49.5   50.5          0.3      4.1       3.6       3.6       88.4
 Top 25%                             56.5   43.5          0.6      6.2       1.7       2.7       88.7
 No exam taken or                    37.3   62.7          0.8      6.3       8.1       7.3       77.6
  no score reported
Cumulative undergraduate GPA*
 Less than 3.0                       55.2   44.8          0.5      4.6      11.3       6.2       77.5
 3.0-3.49                            45.7   54.3          0.6      5.7       5.0       4.9       83.9
 3.5 or higher                       35.2   64.8          0.6      3.7       2.4       3.8       89.4
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*Self-reported.

NOTE: Details may not sum to totals due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Figure 1-Age and gender composition of bachelor's degree recipients: 1992-93

figure 1a figure 1b

figure 1c

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Figure 2-Gender composition of bachelor's degree recipients, by major: 1992-93

figure 2

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Certain majors differed in their racial-ethnic composition (table 1). For example, Asian/Pacific Islanders made up a larger share of engineering, biological science, and math/science majors (8 to 11 percent) than education, public affairs/social services, and psychology majors (1 to 2 percent). However, black, non-Hispanic students were more highly represented among business and public affairs majors than among history majors (8 and 11 percent versus 3 percent). White students made up a larger share of education and history majors than other majors (about 90 percent versus 78 to 85 percent of other majors).

Table 2-Average cumulative and major GPAs of bachelor's degree recipients by gender, major field of study, and age at entry into postsecondary education: 1992-93

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Cumulative GPA*                   Major GPA* 
                                                   Gender                         Gender 
                                      Total    Male    Female         Total    Male    Female
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Total                         3.17     3.10    3.24           3.31     3.25    3.36
Baccalaureate degree major
  Professional fields                 3.19     3.10    3.26           3.31     3.23    3.38
    Business and management           3.15     3.10    3.22           3.26     3.22    3.30
    Education                         3.26     3.11    3.30           3.43     3.32    3.46
    Engineering                       3.10     3.08    3.18           3.20     3.19    3.26
    Health professions                3.28     3.20    3.31           3.36     3.31    3.38
    Public affairs/social services    3.12     3.02    3.18           3.33     3.25    3.39
  Arts and sciences                   3.17     3.13    3.22           3.33     3.29    3.36
    Biological sciences               3.20     3.20    3.20           3.26     3.26    3.27
    Mathematics and other sciences    3.14     3.14    3.13           3.27     3.29    3.25
    Social science                    3.11     3.06    3.17           3.28     3.25    3.31
    History                           3.25     3.19    3.36           3.44     3.44    3.46
    Humanities                        3.23     3.14    3.28           3.41     3.34    3.46
    Psychology                        3.18     3.05    3.23           3.34     3.28    3.37
  Other                               3.11     3.00    3.20           3.27     3.20    3.33
Age at postsecondary entry
  Under 20                            3.16     3.09    3.22           3.30     3.25    3.35
  20-24                               3.24     3.17    3.33           3.33     3.29    3.39
  25-29                               3.41     3.27    3.51           3.49     3.35    3.58
  30 or older                         3.41     3.22    3.47           3.46     3.28    3.52
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*Self-reported.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Age at degree receipt

About half of 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients were age 22 or younger when they received their degree, and about one-quarter were age 23 or 24. One graduate out of six graduated at age 30 or older (table 3). Older students were more represented among those with high grades: graduates with cumulative GPAs of 3.5 or above were more likely to be in their 30s or older than were students with lower GPAs (17 percent were in their 30s, compared with 7 to 8 percent of those with lower grades; 11 percent were 40 or older, compared with 2 to 5 percent of those with lower grades).[6]

[6] A similar pattern is evident when overall grades are examined by age at entry: students in each category of age at entry had higher average cumulative GPAs than younger entrants (the only exception being that those who began at age 30 or older did not have significantly higher GPAs than those who began at 25-29 years old) (table 2).

Table 3-Percentage distribution of bachelor's degree recipients according to age when received bachelor's degree, by cumulative undergraduate GPA: 1992-93

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                       Under                                40 or
                                        23       23-24    25-29    30-39    older
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
   Total                               47.0      24.7     12.4      10.0      6.0
Cumulative undergraduate GPA*
 Less than 3.0                         42.4      33.5     15.0       7.1      2.0
 3.0-3.49                              50.8      24.9     11.6       7.7      5.0
 3.5 or higher                         46.6      14.5     11.3      16.7     11.0
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*Self-reported.

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Degree-granting institution

Sixty-five percent of 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients graduated from public institutions; 42 percent graduated from public doctorate-granting institutions (table 4). Graduates who scored in the bottom quartile of the SAT or ACT were more likely than others for whom a score was available to have received their degree from public nondoctoral institutions (32 percent versus 12 to 20 percent of others), while those scoring in the top quartile were more likely to have graduated from private, doctorate-granting institutions (23 percent versus 9 to 14 percent of others with scores reported).

Table 4-Percentage distribution of bachelor's degree recipients according to control and offering of awarding institution, by entrance examination score quartile: 1992-93

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                            Private,
                                            Public 4-year             not-for-profit 4-year 
                                                Non-                          Non-
                                              doctorate- Doctorate-         doctorate- Doctorate-
                                       Total   granting   granting   Total   granting   granting   Other*
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
   Total                              65.2     23.2       42.0       31.4     17.9       13.4      3.5
Entrance examination score quartile
 Bottom 25%                            74.6     32.0       42.6       24.2     15.4        8.8      1.2
 Middle 50%                            67.9     20.1       47.8       29.2     15.6       13.6      2.9
 Top 25%                               60.5     12.0       48.5       37.6     14.6       23.0      1.9
 No exam taken or no score reported    60.1     27.9       32.1       34.0     23.5       10.5      5.9
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*Includes graduates of private, for-profit institutions and of institutions of unknown type (i.e., 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients who were sampled from an institution other than the degree-granting one).

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

The rest of this section pertains to entry into postsecondary education and progress toward the bachelor's degree. A small number of 1992-93 graduates already held a bachelor's degree or higher level degree (6.5 percent) (compendium table I.11). Since it would not be appropriate to include such students in the discussion of entry and progress, graduates who held a prior bachelor's degree or higher were excluded from the tables and figures that follow.

Figure 3--Percentage distribution of bachelor's degrees recipients according to type of awarding institution: 1992-93

figure 3

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Point of entry into postsecondary education

Half of all 1992-93 first-time bachelor's degree recipients (53 percent) attended more than one institution before completing their degree.[7] This includes students who changed institutions before earning the degree, and students who temporarily enrolled elsewhere but received the degree from the first institution attended. Table 5 presents information on how first-time bachelor's degree recipients began their postsecondary education.

[7] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Table 5-Percentage distribution of first-time bachelor's degree recipients according to control and level of first institution attended, by selected student characteristics: 1992-93

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                    Private,
                                                Private,                            not-for-
                                                not-for-               Public        profit
                                       Public    profit    Public    less-than-    less-than-    Private,
                                       4-year    4-year    2-year     2-year        4-year      for-profit
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Total                             54.4       27.9     16.0       0.0           0.8           0.9
Baccalaureate degree major
 Professional fields                    55.6       24.6     17.9       0.1           0.9           0.9
   Business and management              54.6       26.0     17.3       0.0           0.9           1.2
   Education                            54.9       24.8     18.9       0.0           1.2           0.2
   Engineering                          61.2       21.8     15.1       0.2           0.0           1.7
   Health professions                   56.8       22.9     18.1       0.3           1.5           0.4
   Public affairs/social services       51.7       23.9     22.3       0.0           1.4           0.7
 Arts and sciences                      51.9       34.3     12.7       0.0           0.4           0.7
   Biological sciences                  49.8       40.2      9.2       0.0           0.6           0.3
   Mathematics and other sciences       55.6       28.2     15.3       0.0           0.1           0.8
   Social science                       56.5       31.6     11.2       0.0           0.5           0.1
   History                              48.6       41.0      9.9       0.0           0.5           0.0
   Humanities                           44.8       39.2     13.8       0.0           0.4           1.8
   Psychology                           54.6       29.6     15.4       0.0           0.3           0.2
 Other                                  56.1       23.6     17.5       0.0           1.2           1.7
Age at postsecondary entry 
 Under 20                               55.6       28.4     14.3       0.0           0.8           0.8
 20-24                                  39.8       16.1     41.9       0.3           0.5           1.6
 25-29                                  39.2       20.1     37.2       0.0           0.0           3.4
 30 or older                            31.7       31.1     36.4       0.0           0.4           0.4
Ever taken remedial instruction
 Yes                                    53.1       21.8     23.2       0.1           1.3           0.5
 No                                     54.2       28.3     15.7       0.0           0.8           1.0
Cumulative undergraduate GPA*
 Less than 3.0                          59.6       22.9     16.2       0.0           0.7           0.6
 3.0-3.49                               54.3       29.0     14.9       0.0           0.9           0.9
 3.5 or higher                          47.7       31.5     18.7       0.0           0.9           1.3
Entrance examination score quartile
 Bottom 25%                             60.0       22.7     16.1       0.0           1.0           0.3
 Middle 50%                             58.6       28.7     11.5       0.0           0.9           0.3
 Top 25%                                55.0       38.3      6.1       0.0           0.3           0.3
 No exam taken or no                    45.4       23.4     27.8       0.1           0.9           2.5
 score reported
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*Self-reported.

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

About half of first-time bachelor's degree recipients began their postsecondary education at a public 4-year institution (54 percent); another quarter started at a private, not-for profit 4-year institution (28 percent); 16 percent began at a public 2-year college; and the remainder began at other institutions (table 5).[8] Of those who began at a public 2-year college, 30 percent completed an associate's degree before earning a bachelor's degree (table 6).

[8] These figures change little when one excludes institutions attended only during the summer after high school and those attended only briefly (less than 3 months). For example, after implementing such a restriction, the number who began at public 2-year institutions drops to 15 percent, and the number who began at public 4-year institutions increases to 55 percent (U.S. Department of Education, , 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System).

Older entrants into postsecondary education were more likely than other bachelor's degree recipients to have begun in a public 2-year college. Graduates who began postsecondary education at age 20 or older were twice as likely as their younger counterparts to have begun at such institutions (36 to 42 percent of those who began postsecondary education at age 20 or older, compared with 14 percent of graduates who began at age 19 or younger) (table 5).

Institution of origin was also related to prior preparation. For example, graduates who reported that they had taken remedial instruction in college were more likely than those with no remedial coursework to have begun their postsecondary education in a public 2-year institution (23 versus 16 percent). Similarly, students who scored in the bottom quartile on entrance examinations were more likely than those scoring in the middle or upper quartiles to have begun in a public 2-year institution, while those who scored in the top quartile were more likely to have begun at a private, not-for-profit 4-year institution.

Despite the relationship between graduates' prior preparation and whether they began postsecondary education at a public 2-year institution, there was no systematic relationship between their grades at the degree-granting institution and whether they began at a public 2-year institution.[9] Among students who began postsecondary education at a 4-year institution, however, there was a relationship between college grades and whether they began at a public or at a private, not-for-profit institution: students whose cumulative GPA was 3.5 or higher were less likely than those with lower grades to have begun at a public institution, while those with GPAs below 3.0 were less likely than others to have begun at a private, not-for-profit institution.

[9] This remains true after controlling for major: cumulative and major GPAs did not differ significantly for those who began postsecondary education in a public 2-year institution versus those who began in a 4-year institution. The one exception was for those who majored in public affairs/social services-in which case 2-year college entrants had higher cumulative GPAs (U.S. Department of Education, , 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System).

Students who majored in the arts and sciences were more likely than those in other majors to have begun postsecondary education at a private, not-for-profit 4-year institution (34 percent versus about 24 percent of other majors), and were less likely than other majors to have begun in a public 2-year institution (13 percent versus 18 percent of other majors).

Table 6-Percentage distribution of first-time bachelor's degree recipients according to prior attainment, by attendance characteristics: 1992-93

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                              Associate's
                                           None           Certificate           degree
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
     Total                                 76.3              13.5                10.2
Number of institutions attended
 One                                       86.3              11.3                 2.4
 Two or more                               67.3              15.5                17.2
First postsecondary institution
 Public
  4-year                                   81.1              13.8                 5.1
  2-year                                   56.2              14.4                29.5
  Less-than-2-year                           -                 -                   -
 Private, not-for-profit
  4-year                                   84.5              11.1                 4.3
  Less-than-4-year                         56.8              17.4                25.8
 Private, for-profit                       72.1               8.5                19.4
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

-Sample size too small for a reliable estimate.

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Time to Degree Completion

The average number of years between high school graduation and completion of the bachelor's degree (an indirect measure of time to degree) has been increasing. The proportion of bachelor's degree completers graduating within 4 years after high school declined from 45 percent to 31 percent between 1977 and 1990, and the proportion completing their degrees more than 6 years after high school increased from 25 percent to 32 percent. [10]

[10] The Condition of Education, 1993 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, , 1993): 26. Since this measure includes nonenrolled time between high school and entry into postsecondary education, at least some of the change is due to increased participation and completion by nontraditional students. In the early 1980s, in response to falling numbers of high school graduates, many colleges bolstered sagging enrollments by recruiting more adult students. Thus, it is possible that increases in the time between high school and college graduation do not signify increases in the amount of time actually required to complete the bachelor's degree.

Increases in the time to complete a bachelor's degree have been attributed to a number of factors. Between 1977 and 1990, the proportion of undergraduates attending part time grew from 37 percent to 42 percent.[11] This change in the composition of the student body has directly increased the average time to degree. Furthermore, as older students return to college and complete degrees in greater numbers, time to degree as measured from high school graduation necessarily increases.[12] A recent analysis of two high school cohorts a decade apart suggests that increased time to degree is not solely due to more part-time or older students-it also reflects increased course taking. In analyzing postsecondary transcripts from the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 and the High School and Beyond Sophomore Cohort (most of whom completed high school in 1982), Adelman found the average number of credits earned by bachelor's degree completers rose from 126 to 139 credits between the two cohorts.[13] Other factors that have been cited as increasing time to degree include difficulty enrolling in required courses, as institutions have reduced course offerings in response to budget cuts; growing numbers of students who work while enrolled; increased rates of course withdrawal and noncredit repetition; and increased participation in remedial and developmental courses.[14]

[11] A. McCormick, S. Geis, and R. Vergun, Profile of Part-Time Students in U.S. Postsecondary Education: 1989-90 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1994).
[12] Between 1970 and 1991, the proportion of undergraduates age 25 or older grew from 28 to 45 percent. See S. Choy and M. Premo, Profile of Older Undergraduates: 1989-90 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, , 1995).
[13] Clifford Adelman, The New College Course Map and Transcript Files (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1995).
[14] "Fewer Students Get Bachelor's Degrees in 4 Years, Study Finds," Chronicle of Higher Education (July 15, 1992): A29.

Outcome measures and sample definition

Time to degree is measured in two ways in this report: time elapsed between high school graduation and bachelor's degree completion, and time elapsed between entry into postsecondary education and bachelor's degree completion. As measures of elapsed time, both may include periods of nonenrollment and should not be interpreted as direct measures of time in school. The first measure includes two types of nonenrolled periods: those occurring between high school graduation and entry into postsecondary education, and those occurring between postsecondary entry and college graduation (i.e., vacations and stopout periods). This measure is useful primarily because it affords comparisons to time series data from the Recent College Graduates surveys. The second measure includes only enrollment gaps occurring after entry into postsecondary education, and will be the focus for most of the analysis of time to degree.[15]

[15] In the 1991 Recent College Graduates survey (RCG:91), respondents were asked when they began work on their bachelor's degree. These data were reported in The Condition of Education, 1993 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1995), p. 26. This is not strictly comparable to the B&B measure of time from postsecondary entry to degree completion.

For the following analysis of time to degree, the sample was restricted to first-time bachelor's degree recipients: those graduates who did not hold any prior bachelor's or higher level degree. This restriction excluded about 6.6 percent of all 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients. For analyses examining time between entry into postsecondary education and degree receipt, the sample was further restricted to exclude students with substantial periods between institutions when they were not enrolled. This restriction is explained in detail in the section "Interruptions in enrollment."

Timing of entry into postsecondary education

Among 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients, 9 out of 10 began postsecondary education within 1 year of high school graduation. The remaining 10 percent were distributed roughly evenly over the following intervals between high school graduation and postsecondary enrollment: 1 to 2 years (3 percent), 2 to 5 years (3 percent), and 5 or more years (4 percent) (table 7).

Although public 2-year colleges serve a less traditional student population than 4-year institutions, the population of bachelor's degree recipients who began at such institutions included a large number of traditional students with respect to timing of entry into postsecondary education-79 percent entered college in the first year after high school.[16] This finding highlights the difference between the overall population of 2-year college students and the select group of 2-year college beginners who transfer to a 4-year institution and complete a bachelor's degree.

[16] By contrast, 48 percent of all students attending public 2-year institutions in 1992-93 began postsecondary education within a year of high school. See L. Horn and M. Premo, Profile of Undergraduates in U.S. Postsecondary Institutions: 1992-93 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1995).

Nontraditional students (including older students who may have delayed their entry into postsecondary education, as well as students who return to college after an extended period out of school) are less likely to be represented among bachelor's degree completers for two reasons. First, they are less likely to be working toward a bachelor's degree at all. Second, among those intending to complete a bachelor's degree, nontraditional students are at greater risk for attrition, and thus are less represented among completers.[17] Nevertheless, those graduates who began at public 2-year colleges were less likely than others to have entered postsecondary education in the first year after high school: the comparable figure for 4-year institutions is 93 percent.

[17] L. Berkner, S. Cuccaro-Alamin, and A. McCormick, Descriptive Summary of 1989-90 Beginning Postsecondary Students: Five Years Later (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1996). L. Horn, A Study of Nontraditional Undergraduates (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, , 1996).

In addition to institution of origin, there were also differences in timing of postsecondary entry according to the institutions where bachelor's degree recipients received their degrees: those from doctorate-granting institutions were more likely than others to have begun postsecondary education within 1 year of high school (92 percent of graduates from doctoral institutions versus 86 to 88 percent of those from nondoctoral institutions).

Students with highly educated parents were more likely to enroll within 1 year of high school graduation than were students whose parents had less education. This reflects not only socioeconomic differences but also two other factors: graduates whose parents had lower educational attainment were more likely to be older, and older graduates were more likely to have delayed entry.[18]

[18] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Table 7-Percentage distribution of first-time bachelor's degree recipients according to time between high school graduation and postsecondary entry, by selected student and enrollment characteristics: 1992-93

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Less       At least 1,      At least 2,      5 years
                                           than       less than         less than         or
                                          1 year       2 years           5 years         more
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Total                              89.7         3.1                3.3            3.9
First postsecondary institution
 Public
  4-year                                   93.4         2.4                2.0            2.2
  2-year                                   78.9         4.7                7.5            9.0
  Less-than-2-year                           -           -                  -              -
 Private, notforprofit
  4-year                                   93.2         2.5                1.8            2.5
  Less-than-4-year                         96.6         0.0                2.6            0.7
  Private, forprofit                       82.8         4.8                4.1            8.4
Degree-granting institution
 Public 4-year
  Nondoctorate-granting                    87.7         3.3                3.8            5.3
  Doctorate-granting                       91.8         2.9                2.7            2.5
 Private, not-for-profit 4year
  Nondoctorate-granting                    85.5         3.6                4.9            6.0
  Doctorate-granting                       92.1         2.8                2.2            3.0
 Other                                     88.0         3.5                4.9            3.6
Parents' educational attainment
 Less than high school                     61.8         8.4               10.1           19.7
 High school or equivalency                84.4         4.4                4.5            6.7
 Some postsecondary education              91.3         2.9                3.1            2.8
 Bachelor's degree                         94.8         2.0                2.2            1.1
 Advanced degree                           95.5         2.3                1.6            0.6
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

-Sample size too small for a reliable estimate.

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Time between high school graduation and bachelor's degree completion

As noted at the beginning of this section, analyses of RCG data have shown a substantial increase in time from high school graduation to bachelor's degree receipt between 1977 and 1990. Table 8 presents comparable B&B data for 1992-93 graduates, and a time series using both RCG and B&B data is presented in figure 4.

Thirty-one percent of 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients earned the degree within 4 years of their high school graduation, and another 28 percent graduated between 4 and 5 years after finishing high school (figure 4). At the other extreme, 30 percent received their degree more than 6 years after finishing high school. These data are very similar to RCG figures from 1990, the last year for which comparable data are available.

As would be expected from the findings on delayed entry, time from high school graduation to degree receipt varied substantially according to students' point of entry into postsecondary education. Those who started at a private, not-for-profit 4-year institution were twice as likely as others to complete their degree within 4 years of high school graduation (57 percent versus not more than 27 percent of those who started at other types of institutions). By contrast, students who began in public 2-year institutions were more likely than those who began at 4-year institutions to complete their degree more than 10 years after high school. This reflects several factors that are especially common among 2-year college entrants: delayed entry, part-time attendance, and discontinuity of enrollment.[19]

[19] L. Berkner, S. Cuccaro-Alamin, and A. McCormick, Descriptive Summary of 1989-90 Beginning Postsecondary Students: Five Years Later (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1996).

Table 8-Percentage distribution of first-time bachelor's degree recipients according to time between high school graduation and degree completion, by first postsecondary institution attended: 1992-93

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                         More        More        More        More
                                                        than 4,     than 5,     than 6,      than
                                            4 years      up to       up to       up to        10
                                            or less     5 years     6 years     10 years     years
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Total                                31.1         27.6        11.2        12.7       17.4
First postsecondary institution
  Public
   4-year                                    27.1         35.9        13.2        12.2       11.7
   2-year                                    11.9         21.6        14.8        22.3       29.4
   Less-than-2-year                            -            -           -           -          -
Private, not-for-profit 
   4-year                                    56.7         20.3         6.1         6.4       10.6
   Less-than-4-year                          21.3         26.7        17.8        11.6       22.6
Private, forprofit                           23.5         15.3         5.4        13.9       42.0
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

-Sample size too small for a reliable estimate.

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Figure 4--Percentage distribution of college graduates completing the baccalaureate degree within various years of graduating from high school: 1977, 1986, 1990, and 1993 graduates

figure 4a

figure 4b

SOURCE: Recent College Graduate surveys (1977, 1986, and 1990 graduates), and U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Interruptions in enrollment

As previously noted, both measures of elapsed time to degree can include periods when students were not enrolled. By focusing the analysis on time from postsecondary entry to degree completion, the confounding effect of gaps between secondary and postsecondary education can be eliminated. Since the B&B data set includes starting and ending dates for each undergraduate institution attended, gaps in enrollment occurring between institutions can also be identified.[20]

[20] Gaps in enrollment followed by a return to the same institutions cannot be identified because term-by-term attendance data for each institution attended are not available.

For this analysis, transitions between institutions that included at least 4 consecutive months without enrollment were identified as periods of stopout between institutions. The total number of months of between-institution stopout was then calculated, allowing students with substantial gaps in enrollment between institutions to be identified.[21]

[21] Students with no between-institution stopout may nevertheless have gaps in enrollment that were followed by a return to an institution previously attended.

Between-institution stopout is only possible for students who attended more than one institution (53 percent of all first-time bachelor's degree recipients). Students who began postsecondary education at a less-than-4-year institution necessarily attended more than one institution before completing the bachelor's degree. Among students who began at a 4-year institution, 37 percent attended more than one institution before receiving their degree (table 9).

Table 9-Percentage distribution of first-time bachelor's degree recipients who began postsecondary education at a 4-year institution according to the number of institutions attended, by type of institution first attended: 1992-93

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                           Two or
                                          One               more
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
       Total                              63.1              36.9
First postsecondary institution
  Public                                  62.4              37.6
  Private, not-for-profit                 64.8              35.2
  Private, for-profit                     53.5              46.5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Among all first-time bachelor's degree recipients, three-quarters had no gaps of 4 months or longer between institutions, and an additional 8 percent had one gap of 4 or 5 months (about 1 semester) between institutions (table 10). Among the more restricted group for whom between-institution stopout is possible (i.e., those who attended more than one institution), 52 percent had no gaps between institutions, and another 16 percent had a gap of 4 or 5 months (figure 5). At the other extreme, 19 percent of students who attended more than one institution had at least 2 years' worth of enrollment gaps between institutions (table 10).[22]

[22] This could be a single gap of at least 2 years' duration, or a combination of shorter gaps between institutions.

Students who delayed their initial entry into postsecondary education by 1 year or more were almost three times as likely to experience substantial interruptions in enrollment between institutions as well: 22 percent of delayed entrants had 2 years' worth of enrollment gaps between institutions, compared with 8 percent of those who began postsecondary education within 1 year of high school graduation.

Table 10-Percentage distribution of first-time bachelor's degree recipients according to total number of months stopped out between institutions, by selected student and enrollment characteristics: 1992-93

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          No stopouts                              24
                                            lasting                              months
                                            4 months       4-5        6-23         or
                                            or more/1     months      months      more
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
         Total                                76.2         7.9         6.7         9.2
Time between high school graduation
and postsecondary education
  Less than 1 year                            78.2         7.9         6.1        7.8
  One year or more                            57.5         8.1        12.3       22.1
Number of institutions attended
  One                                        100.0         (2)         (2)        (2)
  Two or more                                 51.7        16.0        13.6       18.7
Ever taken remedial instruction
  Yes                                         71.1        10.1         7.6       11.3
  No                                          76.1         7.8         6.7        9.4
First postsecondary institution
  Public
    4-year                                    85.0         4.4         4.0        6.7
    2-year                                    44.4        19.4        17.3       18.9
    Less-than-2-year                            -           -           -          -
  Private, not-for-profit
    4-year                                    85.6         6.2         3.4       4.9
    Less-than-4-year                          38.6        26.4        15.6      19.5
  Private, forprofit                          51.3         0.9        21.6      26.3
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

-Sample size too small for a reliable estimate.

/1/Includes all students who attended only one institution, as well as those who attended more than one institution but had no gaps of 4 months or longer between institutions.

/2/Not applicable.

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Students who began postsecondary education at a 4-year institution were more likely than others to have progressed toward the degree without any periods of stopout between institutions (about 85 percent, versus 39 to 51 percent of others). This can partially be explained by the fact that many of those who began at a 4-year institution received their degree from the same institution, while others necessarily made a transition between institutions. Parallel to the findings for age at entry, students who began postsecondary education at a public 2-year institution were nearly three times as likely as those who began at a 4-year institution to have had at least 2 years' worth of enrollment interruption between institutions (19 percent versus 5 to 7 percent).

Figure 5-Between-institution stopout among first-time bachelor's degree recipients: 1992-93

figure 5

*Total number of months stopped out between institutions, counting only gaps of at least 4 months' duration. "No stopouts lasting 4 months or more" includes all students who attended only one institution.

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

The influence of between-institution stopout on elapsed time to degree can be seen in table 11. In particular, note the proportions of students completing their degrees more than 6 years after beginning postsecondary education. Overall, about one-quarter of bachelor's degree recipients took more than 6 years to complete their degree (26 percent). This is strongly related to between-institution stopout, however: about one out of eight students who had no substantial between-institution stopout took more than 6 years to complete their degree, compared with three-quarters of those whose between-institution stopout was 6 months or more. Clearly, a large number of those who stopped out for a total of 6 months or more interrupted their enrollment for an extended period.

Because between-institution stopout so strongly affects elapsed time to degree, the remainder of the analysis of time to degree will be restricted to first-time bachelor's degree recipients who had less than 6 months of stopout between institutions (about 85 percent of the total).

Table 11-Percentage distribution of first-time bachelor's degree recipients according to time between entry into postsecondary education and degree completion, by total number of months stopped out between institutions: 1992-93

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                  4 years     More than 4,    More than 5,
                                                     or          up to          up to        More than
                                                    less        5 years        6 years        6 years
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total                                           35.5         27.9            11.0           25.6
Total months stopped out between institutions
 No stopouts lasting 4 months or more*              44.6         31.3            10.7           13.4
 4-5 months                                         27.2         38.1            16.0           18.7
 6 months or more                                    1.8         10.6            10.6           77.0
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*Includes all students who attended only one institution, as well as those who attended more than one institution but had no gaps of 4 months or longer between institutions.

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Time between entry into postsecondary education and bachelor's degree completion

This section examines time from postsecondary entry to degree completion for those 1992-93 first-time bachelor's degree recipients who had less than 6 months of stopout between institutions-that is, those for whom elapsed time to degree does not include large gaps between institutions. For simplicity, this group will hereafter be identified as "steady-progress graduates" or "steady-progress bachelor's degree recipients." Since this restriction pertains only to gaps between institutions, however, the reader should bear in mind that the steady-progress group may include students who had within-institution stopout periods (i.e., interruptions in enrollment followed by a return to the same institution).

Table 12 reports time to degree as a percentage distribution, while table 13 reports the average number of years to degree completion. This discussion is organized around the percentage distribution figures, with occasional reference to the averages. Overall, about 43 percent of steady-progress graduates completed their degree within 4 years of beginning postsecondary education. Another 32 percent took between 4 and 5 years to graduate, and 11 percent took from 5 to 6 years. The remaining 14 percent received their degree more than 6 years after they began postsecondary education.

Table 12-Percentage distribution of first-time bachelor's degree recipients with less than 6 months of stopout between institutions according to time between entry into postsecondary education and degree completion, by selected student and enrollment characteristics: 1992-93

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                       More        More
                                                      than 4,     than 5,
                                          4 years      up to       up to     More than
                                          or less     5 years     6 years     6 years
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
     Total                                 43.0        31.9        11.2        13.9
Gender
 Male                                      37.0        35.2        13.5        14.3
 Female                                    48.1        29.1         9.2        13.6
Race-ethnicity
 American Indian/Alaskan Native            38.9        31.4         8.1        21.6
 Asian/Pacific Islander                    38.4        38.3        11.9        11.4
 Black, nonHispanic                        31.7        32.6        17.4        18.4
 Hispanic                                  27.7        34.3        15.0        23.0
 White, nonHispanic                        44.9        31.3        10.5        13.2
Baccalaureate degree major
 Professional fields                       37.2        35.3        11.4        16.1
  Business and management                  41.4        33.9         8.5        16.2
  Education                                38.5        35.2        11.2        15.1
  Engineering                              28.1        42.3        15.6        14.1
  Health professions                       29.0        34.1        17.3        19.7
  Public affairs/social services           38.0        32.4        12.6        17.1
 Arts and sciences                         51.1        26.2        10.9        11.8
  Biological sciences                      57.4        22.2         9.0        11.5
  Mathematics and other sciences           45.6        26.7        11.4        16.3
  Social science                           54.2        25.9         9.8        10.1
  History                                  51.2        25.6        18.4         4.8
  Humanities                               49.0        26.6        12.8        11.5
  Psychology                               47.2        31.4         7.3        14.0
 Other                                     43.0        34.2        11.1        11.7
Time between high school graduation
and postsecondary education
 Less than 1 year                          45.2        32.5        10.8        11.5
 One year or more                          17.0        24.0        16.5        42.6
Ever taken remedial instruction
 Yes                                       26.9        32.0        18.1        23.1
 No                                        44.2        32.1        10.4        13.3
Cumulative undergraduate GPA*
 Less than 3.0                             30.0        36.8        16.5        16.7
 3.0-3.49                                  46.5        33.1         9.2        11.2
 3.5 or higher                             54.4        22.6         7.6        15.5
Total undergraduate debt
 Did not borrow                            47.9        30.2        10.3        11.6
 Less than $1,000                          32.1        34.7        13.7        19.5
 $1,000-4,999                              35.5        34.9        11.2        18.4
 $5,000-9,999                              35.6        34.0        11.9        18.6
 $10,000-19,999                            40.0        32.4        13.5        14.2
 $20,000 or more                           42.6        36.8         8.7        12.0
Entrance examination score quartile
 Bottom 25%                                35.3       39.7         13.0         12.0
 Middle 50%                                47.5       34.2         10.4          7.9
 Top 25%                                   61.0       25.7          7.9          5.5
 No exam taken or no                       27.6       27.6         13.7         31.1
 score reported
Degree-granting institution
 Public 4-year                             33.5      37.5          13.8         15.2
  Nondoctorate-granting                    28.8      37.4          15.6         18.2
  Doctorate-granting                       35.8      37.6          12.8         13.8
 Private, not-for-profit 4-year            64.8      19.1           5.2         10.9
  Nondoctorate-granting                    63.0      19.0           4.8         13.3
  Doctorate-granting                       67.0      19.1           5.8          8.0
 Other                                     28.9       9.6          16.1         17.2
First postsecondary institution
 Public
  4-year                                   35.2      39.0          13.0         12.9
  2-year                                   23.5      31.4          18.7         26.5
  Less-than-2-year                           -         -             -            -
 Private, not-for-profit
  4-year                                   67.0      18.9           4.6          9.6
  Less-than-4-year                         44.5      29.0          13.3         13.2
 Private, for-profit                       67.7      15.2           2.0         15.0
Number of institutions attended
 One                                       50.7      29.6           9.0         10.8
 Two or more                               31.4      35.4          14.6         18.7
Transfer of credit
 Began at sample institution or
 did not transfer credits                  48.9      30.2           9.2         11.7
 Began elsewhere and transferred
 credits
  Transferred less than 10%
  of credits                               30.0     33.5           21.2         15.4
  Transferred 10-25% of credits            27.5     46.1           14.3         12.0
  Transferred 26-50% of credits            21.2     38.8           19.3         20.6
  Transferred more than 50%
  of credits                               20.9     31.9           16.5         30.7
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

-Sample size too small for a reliable estimate.

*Self-reported.

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Table 13-Among first-time bachelor's degree recipients with less than 6 months of stopout between institutions, average number of years between postsecondary entry and degree receipt according to type of degree-granting institution, by selected student and enrollment characteristics: 1992-93

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                   Private,
                                                                   not-for-
                                                         Public     profit
                                               Total     4-year     4-year     Other*
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Total                                     5.2       5.3        5.0        5.2
Gender
 Male                                           5.2       5.3        4.9        5.1
 Female                                         5.2       5.3        5.1        5.2
Time between high school graduation and
postsecondary education
 Less than 1 year                               5.0       5.2        4.6        5.1
 One year or more                               7.7       7.3        8.6         -
Ever taken remedial instruction
 Yes                                            6.1       6.4        5.2         -
 No                                             5.2       5.3        5.0        5.2
Total undergraduate debt
 Did not borrow                                 5.1       5.1        5.0        5.5
 Less than $1,000                               5.6       5.7         -          -
 $1,000-4,999                                   5.5       5.5        5.7         -
 $5,000-9,999                                   5.5       5.4        5.7         -
 $10,000-19,999                                 5.2       5.9        4.4         -
 $20,000 or more                                4.9       5.6        4.4         -
Number of institutions attended
 One                                            5.0       5.1        4.8        5.1
 Two or more                                    5.6       5.7        5.5        5.3
Transfer of credit
 Began at sample institution or
 did not transfer credits                       5.0       5.2        4.7        5.5
 Began elsewhere and transferred
 credits
  Transferred less than 10% of credits         5.8        5.8         -          -
  Transferred 10-25% of credits                5.0        5.0        5.1         -
  Transferred 26-50% of credits                5.7        5.8        5.5         -
  Transferred more than 50% of credits         6.6        6.3        7.8         -
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

-Sample size too small for a reliable estimate.

*Includes graduates of private, for-profit institutions and of institutions of unknown type (i.e., 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients who were sampled from an institution other than the degree-granting one).

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

Gender and race-ethnicity

Among steady-progress graduates, women were more likely than men to have completed their degree within 4 years (48 versus 37 percent). There was no gender difference with respect to completion after 6 years or average time to degree, however.[23]

[23] This apparent contradiction is explained by the difference in average time to degree among men and women who took more than 6 years to complete the degree-10.3 years for men versus 12.0 years for women (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System).

The only racial-ethnic differences in 4-year completion rates among steady-progress graduates were between white, non-Hispanic graduates (45 percent) and both black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic graduates (32 percent and 28 percent, respectively).[24] With respect to completion in more than 6 years, the only difference was between white, non-Hispanic and Hispanic graduates (13 percent versus 23 percent).[25]

[24] Although the differences in 4-year completion rates among other groups reported in table 12 appear large, they are not statistically significant due to the standard errors associated with the estimates. See appendix A for details about procedures used to test for statistically significant differences.
[25] The difference between Asian/Pacific Islanders and American Indian/Alaskan Natives, though large, is not statistically significant.

Timing of entry and preparation for college

Time to degree was related to both students' preparation for college and to when they began their postsecondary education. Steady-progress graduates who began their postsecondary education more than 1 year after high school were less likely than others to complete their degree within 4 years, and were almost three times as likely to take at least 6 years to do so (17 percent of delayed entrants graduated within 4 years, compared with 45 percent of those who did not delay; 43 percent of delayed entrants took more than 6 years to graduate, compared with 12 percent of those who did not delay). On average, delayed entrants took 7.7 years to complete their degree, compared with 5 years for those who did not delay entry into postsecondary education (table 13). This probably reflects both increases in part-time enrollment and in enrollment at less-than-4-year institutions among delayed entrants. (The relationship between institutions attended and time to degree is explored in the following section.)

Students who scored in the top quartile on college entrance examinations were much more likely than others to complete their degree in 4 years (61 percent who scored in the top quartile graduated in 4 years, compared with 35 to 48 percent of those who scored in the bottom and middle quartiles, respectively). A similar relationship existed with respect to college grades: students with higher GPAs were more likely than other students to graduate within 4 years.

Participation in remedial instruction was also related to time to degree: 23 percent of those who took remedial courses took more than 6 years to graduate, compared with 13 percent of those with no remedial coursework. As one might expect, an inverse pattern holds with respect to completion within 4 years: 44 percent of those with no remediation graduated within 4 years, compared with 27 percent of those who had done remedial or developmental work. On average, students who had taken remedial instruction took about 1 year longer than other students to complete their degree (6.1 versus 5.2 years) (table 13). It is likely that this reflects a number of factors: that a large number of students in need of remediation began their postsecondary education at institutions where part-time study is more common, such as public 2-year institutions; that some students in need of remediation may have interrupted their enrollment and later returned to the same institution; and that remedial courses may have been noncredit courses.

Institutions attended

Steady-progress bachelor's degree recipients who began postsecondary education at a private, not-for-profit 4-year institution were much more likely than those who began at a public 2- or 4-year institution to complete their degree within 4 years (67 percent compared with 24 percent of public 2-year entrants and 35 percent of public 4-year entrants) (table 12). At the other extreme, steady-progress graduates who began at public 2-year institutions were more likely than those who started at 4-year institutions to take 6 or more years to complete their degree (27 percent of community college starters versus 10 to 13 percent of 4-year starters).

Matching the findings for institution of entry, steady-progress graduates of private, not-for-profit institutions were far more likely than graduates of public institutions to have received their degree within 4 years of starting postsecondary education (65 percent versus 34 percent) (table 12 and figure 6). This difference was also reflected with respect to longer completion times: graduation after more than 6 years was more common among steady-progress graduates of public institutions than among their counterparts from private, not-for-profit institutions. On average, steady-progress graduates of public institutions took 5.3 years to complete their degree, about 1 semester longer than graduates of private, not-for-profit institutions (table 13). A more direct estimate of time to degree at public and private, not-for-profit 4-year institutions is possible by comparing the average time to degree for graduates of each type of institution who attended only one institution. For this group, it took students in both types of institutions about 5 years to complete their degree.[26]

[26] While the average time to degree appears larger at public institutions, there is insufficient evidence that this reflects systematic differences in time to degree at the two types of institutions.

As noted earlier, half of all 1992-93 first-time bachelor's degree recipients attended more than one institution before completing their degree. Those who attended more than one institution include two groups of students: those who began at one institution and later entered the institution where they earned their degree (with or without a transfer of credits) and those who began at the institution where they earned a degree, but at some time enrolled elsewhere to participate in a special program or to complete needed credits.[27]

[27] See "Double Dippers," The Chronicle of Higher Education (August 4, 1995): A27. Three-quarters of those who attended more than one institution began their postsecondary education somewhere other than the sample institution (compendium table I.12).

Figure 6-Time from postsecondary entry to bachelor's degree for graduates with less than 6 months of stopout between institutions, by types of institutions attended: 1992-93

figure 6a

figure 6b

NOTE: Details may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding. The number of bachelor's degree recipients who began at public less-than-2-year institutions and had less than 6 months of between-institution stopout was too small to produce a reliable estimate of time to degree.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study First Followup (B&B:93/94), Data Analysis System.

One-third of those who attended more than one institution completed a subbaccalaureate credential (16 percent completed an undergraduate certificate, and 17 percent completed an associate's degree) (table 6).

Attendance at more than one institution was strongly related to time to degree. Those who attended more than one institution were far less likely than those who attended a single institution to graduate within 4 years of postsecondary entry (31 percent versus 51 percent), and were more likely to take over 6 years to complete their degree (table 12). Moreover, this relationship persists after taking transfer of credit into account. Transcript data were used to identify the amount of credits transferred by students who began postsecondary education at some institution other than the one where they received their bachelor's degree. Even among steady-progress graduates, students who changed institutions and transferred credits were less likely than others to graduate within 4 years of beginning their postsecondary education.[28]

[28] The comparison group includes all students who began postsecondary education at the sample institution (regardless of whether they transferred any credits), plus any students who began at a different institution but did not transfer any credits.

Major field of study

There were also differences in time to degree according to major field of study. For example, steady-progress graduates receiving degrees in the biological sciences were more likely than business, education, engineering, health professions, or public affairs/social services majors to complete their degree within 4 years (57 percent of biological science majors, compared with 28 to 41 percent of the other majors listed) (table 12). Majors in the health professions and in engineering were less likely than arts and sciences majors to complete within 4 years (28 percent of engineering and 29 percent of health professions majors, versus 51 percent of arts and sciences majors). Shorter completion times for biological science majors may reflect the presence of premedical students who may be especially motivated to advance to their professional training, while longer times for engineering majors may reflect the presence of students in 5-year programs.[29]

[29] The B&B data do not identify students who are enrolled in 5-year programs.

Debt

Time to degree may also be related to whether students borrowed to finance their undergraduate education. For example, students with unmet financial need who are unwilling to incur additional debt may enroll part time or interrupt their enrollment so they can work longer hours to increase their earnings. Steady-progress graduates who accumulated between $1,000 and $20,000 of debt were less likely than those with no debt to graduate within 4 years (35 to 40 percent versus 48 percent among those who did not borrow) (table 12). At the other extreme, those who borrowed between $1,000 and $10,000 were more likely than nonborrowers to take more than 6 years to complete their degree. Nonborrowers and those with lighter (less than $1,000) or heavier (more than $20,000) debt burdens did not differ with respect to time to degree, nor were there differences among borrowers with different amounts of debt.[30]

[30] Although there appears to be a difference in time to degree between nonborrowers and those who borrowed less than $1,000, the latter is a very small group, and there is insufficient evidence that this reflects a systematic difference between the two groups.

Among steady-progress graduates of private, not-for-profit institutions (where costs and student debt burdens are highest), those who borrowed at least $10,000 averaged 4.4 years from postsecondary entry to degree completion, compared with 5.7 years for those who borrowed between $1,000 and $10,000 (table 13). Again, those with lower debt may have chosen to stop out or to attend part time to increase their earnings rather than take more loans to control their costs, lengthening the time required to complete their degree.[31]

[31] Recall that the steady-progress group can include students who interrupted their enrollment but returned to the same institution.

Conclusion

The traditional notion of a bachelor's degree as a 4-year degree no longer matches the experience of the majority of bachelor's degree completers. Only 36 percent of 1992-93 bachelor's degree recipients completed their degree within 4 years of beginning postsecondary education. Even when one excludes students who took time out between institutions, less than half (45 percent) completed their degree within 4 years (table 11). A number of factors are clearly related to time to degree. Students who delayed their entry into postsecondary education took longer to complete their degree, as did those who began postsecondary education at a less-than-4-year institution. Attendance at more than one institution was also associated with increased time to degree, even after controlling for the proportion of total credits that were transferred. These findings may reflect part-time attendance and difficulties in sustaining continuous enrollment for students who have significant responsibilities that may conflict with their student role (e.g., family and career responsibilities).[32]

[32] The effect of part-time attendance could not be examined directly, since B&B data do not include data on enrollment status over the duration of postsecondary enrollment.



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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education