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PEDAR: Executive Summary  College Persistence on the Rise? Changes in 5-Year Degree Completion and Postsecondary Persistence Rates Between 1994 and 2000
Changes in Student Population
Changes in Student Borrowing
Changes in Degree Completion and 5-Year Persistence
Changes by Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and Income
Research Methodology
Full Report (PDF)
Executive Summary (PDF)
 Changes in Student Population

Between 1989 and 1995, total undergraduate fall enrollment in institutions of higher education increased from 11.7 million to 12.2 million (U.S. Department of Education 2000, table 190). In addition to the increase in the total undergraduate population, the racial/ethnic composition and income level of students just beginning their postsecondary education changed over the 6-year period. In particular, as shown in table A, Black and Hispanic students made up larger proportions of beginning postsecondary students over the study period, while the proportion of White students declined over time. Although no overall change in the gender distribution was detected, when the data were broken out by the type of institution students first attended, among students enrolled in private not-for-profit 4-year institutions, it appears that the percentage who were women increased from 51 percent in 1989–90 to 57 percent in 1995–96; however, the difference is not statistically significant (table 1).

Coinciding with the rise in Black and Hispanic student enrollment in the 6-year period between cohorts was an increase in the proportion of low-income students. The percentage of low-income students increased from 13 to 16 percent overall for dependent students.4 This increase held for dependent students who began in public 4-year institutions (from 10 to 15 percent) and private for-profit institutions (from 21 to 35 percent) (table 1).

The age distribution of beginning students changed to some degree. As of December 31 in the year they enrolled, the percentage of 19-year-olds and students in their 20s increased, while the proportion of 18-year-olds declined.

As the demographic profile of beginning students changed, so did the level of education achieved by their parents. Students in the later cohort were more likely to have at least one parent who held a bachelor’s degree or higher. Such students are typically more successful in completing college degrees than their counterparts whose parents never attended postsecondary education (Nuñez and Cuccaro-Alamin 1998). The change in parents’ education levels was particularly evident among students who began in 4-year institutions, among whom the percentage with parents who held bachelor’s degrees or higher increased from 44 to 50 percent for those who started in public institutions and from 53 to 60 percent for those who started in private not-for-profit institutions (figure A).

There was some indication that students’ academic preparation may have changed over time, primarily for students who began in public 2-year colleges. Among these students, the percentage who reported taking remedial mathematics courses in their first year of enrollment increased from 11 to 17 percent (table 2). About 1 in 10 students who began in public 2-year colleges reported taking remedial reading courses in both cohorts.

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