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Annual Reports and Information Staff (Annual Reports)
Postsecondary Education

Postsecondary Outcomes for Nontraditional Undergraduate Students

(Last Updated: May 2019)

Among students who started at public 2-year institutions in 2009, completion rates 8 years after entry were higher among full-time students (30 percent for first-time students and 38 percent for non-first-time students) than among part-time students (16 percent for first-time students and 21 percent for non-first-time students). Also at public 2-year institutions, transfer rates 8 years after entry were higher among non-first-time students (37 percent for part-time students and 30 percent for full-time students) than among first-time students (24 percent for both full-time and part-time students).

College graduation and retention rates often focus on first-time, full-time undergraduate students (see Undergraduate Retention and Graduation Rates). Those measures, however, do not fully capture the experiences of students who do not fit the profile of a “traditional” undergraduate student. Examples of nontraditional students include those who enroll part time, transfer among institutions, or leave postsecondary education temporarily but later enroll again. Newly available data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) shed light on the outcomes of nontraditional students in higher education.

The new Outcome Measures (OM) component of IPEDS collects students’ enrollment and completion statuses 8 years after entering the reporting institution. At the 8-year mark, the collection measures whether students (a) completed an award at their initial institution, (b) remained enrolled at their initial institution, (c) transferred to a different postsecondary institution, or (d) were no longer enrolled at their initial institution and had not completed a credential at their initial institution. The final category includes students who would be considered “dropouts” as well as those who transferred but did not notify their initial institution.

To better describe outcomes for nontraditional college students, the IPEDS OM data are collected for four student groups:

  • First-time, full-time students
  • First-time, part-time students
  • Non-first-time,1 full-time students
  • Non-first-time, part-time students
This indicator examines how completion, transfer,2 and enrollment rates vary among these four groups.

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Select a subgroup characteristic from drop-down menu below to view relevant text and figures.

Full-time/Part-time + Level of institution + Control of institution
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Figure 1. Percentage distribution of undergraduate students beginning at 2-year institutions for each institutional control category, by attendance level and status: 2009
Figure 1. Percentage distribution of undergraduate students beginning at 2-year institutions for each institutional control category, by attendance level and status: 2009

NOTE: The 2009 entry cohort includes all degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students who entered a degree-granting institution between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. Attendance level (first-time or non-first-time student) and attendance status (full-time or part-time student) are based on the first full term (i.e., semester or quarter) after the student entered the institution. First-time students are those who had never attended a postsecondary institution prior to their 2009–10 entry into the reporting institution. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Winter 2017–18, Outcome Measures component; and IPEDS Fall 2009, Institutional Characteristics component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 326.27.

Figure 2. Percentage distribution of students’ postsecondary outcomes 8 years after beginning at 2-year institutions in 2009, by initial attendance level and status: 2017
Figure 2. Percentage distribution of students’ postsecondary outcomes 8 years after beginning at 2-year institutions in 2009, by initial attendance level and status: 2017

# Rounds to zero.

1 Attendance level (first-time or non-first-time student) and attendance status (full-time or part-time student) are based on the first full term (i.e., semester or quarter) after the student entered the institution. First-time students are those who had never attended a postsecondary institution prior to their 2009–10 entry into the reporting institution.

2 Includes certificates, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees. Includes only those awards that were conferred by the reporting institution (i.e., the institution the student entered in 2009–10); excludes awards conferred by institutions to which the student later transferred.

3 Refers to the percentage of students who were known transfers (i.e., those who notified their initial postsecondary institution of their transfer). The actual transfer rate (including students who transferred, but did not notify their initial institution) may be higher.

4 Includes students who dropped out of the reporting institution and students who transferred to another institution without notifying the reporting institution.

NOTE: The 2009 entry cohort includes all degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students who entered a degree-granting institution between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. Student enrollment status and completion status are determined as of August 31 of the year indicated; for example, within 8 years after the student’s 2009–10 entry into the reporting institution means by August 31, 2018. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Winter 2017–18, Outcome Measures component; and IPEDS Fall 2009, Institutional Characteristics component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 326.27.

Figure 3. Percentage distribution of undergraduate students beginning at 4-year institutions for each institutional control category, by attendance level and status: 2009
Figure 3. Percentage distribution of undergraduate students beginning at 4-year institutions for each institutional control category, by attendance level and status: 2009

NOTE: The 2009 entry cohort includes all degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students who entered a degree-granting institution between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. For 4-year institutions, the cohort includes only bachelor’s degree-seeking students. Attendance level (first-time or non-first-time student) and attendance status (full-time or part-time student) are based on the first full term (i.e., semester or quarter) after the student entered the institution. First-time students are those who had never attended a postsecondary institution prior to their 2009–10 entry into the reporting institution. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Winter 2017–18, Outcome Measures component; and IPEDS Fall 2009, Institutional Characteristics component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 326.27.

Figure 4. Percentage distribution of students’ postsecondary outcomes 8 years after beginning at 4-year institutions in 2009, by initial attendance level and status: 2017
Figure 4. Percentage distribution of students’ postsecondary outcomes 8 years after beginning at 4-year institutions in 2009, by initial attendance level and status: 2017

# Rounds to zero.

1 Attendance level (first-time or non-first-time student) and attendance status (full-time or part-time student) are based on the first full term (i.e., semester or quarter) after the student entered the institution. First-time students are those who had never attended a postsecondary institution prior to their 2009–10 entry into the reporting institution.

2 Includes certificates, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees. Includes only those awards that were conferred by the reporting institution (i.e., the institution the student entered in 2009–10); excludes awards conferred by institutions to which the student later transferred.

3 Refers to the percentage of students who were known transfers (i.e., those who notified their initial postsecondary institution of their transfer). The actual transfer rate (including students who transferred, but did not notify their initial institution) may be higher.

4 Includes students who dropped out of the reporting institution and students who transferred to another institution without notifying the reporting institution.

NOTE: The 2009 entry cohort includes all degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students who entered a degree-granting institution between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. For 4-year institutions, the cohort includes only bachelor’s degree-seeking students. Student enrollment status and completion status are determined as of August 31 of the year indicated; for example, within 8 years after the student’s 2009–10 entry into the reporting institution means by August 31, 2018. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Winter 2017–18, Outcome Measures component; and IPEDS Fall 2009, Institutional Characteristics component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 326.27.

Figure 5. Students’ completion rates 8 years after beginning at 4-year institutions in 2009, by Pell Grant recipient status of student and selectivity of institution: 2017
Figure 5. Students’ completion rates 8 years after beginning at 4-year institutions in 2009, by Pell Grant recipient status of student and selectivity of institution: 2017

NOTE: The 2009 entry cohort includes all degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students who entered a degree-granting institution between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. For 4-year institutions, the cohort includes only bachelor’s degree-seeking students. Student completion status is determined as of August 31 of the year indicated; for example, within 8 years after the student’s 2009–10 entry into the reporting institution means by August 31, 2018. Completion rates include only those awards that were conferred by the reporting institution (i.e., the institution that the student entered in 2009–10); excludes awards conferred by institutions to which the student later transferred.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Winter 2017–18, Outcome Measures component; and IPEDS Fall 2009, Institutional Characteristics component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2018, table 326.27.


1 Students who had prior experience at a different postsecondary institution before attending the reporting institution.

2 Throughout the indicator, “transfer rate” refers to the percentage of students who were known transfers (i.e., those who notified their initial postsecondary institution of their transfer). The actual transfer rate (including students who transferred, but did not notify their initial institution) may be higher.

3 The percentage of the 2009 cohort that completed an award at their initial institution at any time between 2009 and 2017.

4 Percentage point differences were calculated using unrounded percentages.

Supplemental Information

Table 326.27 (Digest 2018): Number of degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students entering a postsecondary institution and percentage of students 4, 6, and 8 years after entry, by completion and enrollment status at the same institution, institution level and control, attendance level and status, Pell Grant recipient status, and acceptance rate: Cohort entry year 2009
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