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Four-Year Colleges and Universities Report Over Half of Undergraduate Students Completed Degrees Within 8 Years

December 12, 2023

NCES also unveils first-time data on ‘legacy’ admissions

WASHINGTON (December 12, 2023)óMore than half of undergraduate students who entered a four-year, degree-granting U.S. postsecondary institution in 2014-15 Ė 54 percent Ėcompleted their degree or certificate at the institution where they started within 8 years, according to provisional data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical center within the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The comparable figure for completion for undergraduate students who entered four-year degree granting postsecondary institutions the prior year (2013-14) was 52 percent.

At two-year degree granting postsecondary institutions in the U.S., 31 percent of undergraduate students completed a degree or certificate within 8 years of entering in 2014-15. For those who entered two-year institutions one year earlier (2013-14), 30 percent completed a degree or certificate within 8 years.

“The results we are sharing today reflect our ongoing commitment at NCES to promote greater transparency within higher education, so that educators, policymakers, and families have vital information about college admissions and outcomes,” said Peggy G. Carr, the commissioner of NCES. “We are especially pleased to be able to report outcome data today, as they provide a richer understanding of the experiences and outcomes for part-time and non-first-time students.”

Eight years after entering a public postsecondary institution, 34 percent of full-time, first-time students had received a bachelorís degree, 15 percent had received an associateís degree, and 3 percent had received a certificate, the NCES data show.

For private nonprofit institutions, the data show 63 percent of full-time, first-time students had received a bachelorís degree 8 years after starting, 3 percent had received an associateís degree, and 2 percent had received a certificate.

The data for the Outcome Measures survey component were collected during the 2022-23 academic year. They reflect outcomes for the cohort of degree- or certificate-seeking undergraduate students who began postsecondary education in 2014-15. Additionally, this data release includes initial information about the admission considerations institutions use in the undergraduate selection process. As part of NCESís reoccurring technical reviews of its data collections, recommendations were made in 2021 to collect information on institutionsí consideration of legacy status, work experience, and personal statements or essays in admissions decisions.

These data show that 32 percent of all selective four-year U.S. institutions (those that do not have an open admissions policy) said they consider ďlegacy status,Ē or whether students have a familial tie to an institution, including parents or relatives who are alumni or a sibling who currently attends.

The data on legacy admissions, personal essays, and work experience are based on 1,923 selective admissions institutions.

The new NCES data being released today are from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). IPEDS is a system of interrelated surveys conducted annually by the National Center for Education Statistics. IPEDS gathers information from U.S. college, university, and technical and vocational institutions eligible to participate in any of the Title IV federal student financial aid programs.

The provisional winter collection release for 2022-23 includes data from 5,918 Title IV institutions. Institutions that complete IPEDS surveys each year include research universities, state colleges and universities, private religious and liberal arts colleges, for-profit institutions, community and technical colleges, non-degree-granting institutions such as cosmetology schools, and others.

To access the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System data released today, please visit https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/use-the-data.

Key Findings

Admissions

In 2022-23, IPEDS added three new admission considerations based on a 2019 background report commissioned by the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (NPEC) and an expert meeting held in 2021. The new admission considerations were:

  • legacy status
  • work experience, and
  • personal statement or essay

Admissions data were reported by 1,923 “selective,” or non-open admission U.S. institutions during the Winter 2022-23 data collection. Admissions data are for first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students only.

  • For legacy status
    • 1,344 institutions indicated that it is not considered for admission, even if submitted
    • 579 institutions indicated they considered legacy status in making an admission decision
      • 553 of these institutions were 4-year institutions
        • 460 of these 4-year institutions were private nonprofit institutions
  • For work experience
    • 26 institutions indicated this is required to be considered for admission
    • 1,070 indicated that it is not considered for admission, even if submitted
    • 827 indicated it is not required for admission, but considered if submitted
  • For personal essays
    • 648 institutions indicated this is required to be considered for admission
    • 559 indicated that it is not considered for admission, even if submitted
    • 716 indicated it is not required for admission, but considered if submitted
  • Institutions reported that they received almost a million more applications from first-time students in fall 2022 than in fall 2021.
    • For fall 2022, they reported receiving 13,100,210 applications.
    • For fall 2021, they reported receiving 12,167,779 applications.
  • For fall 2022, institutions reported admitting 7,671,853 first-time students (59 percent) from the 13,100,210 applications.
    • In fall 2021, they reported admitting 7,328,654 first-time students (60 percent) from the 12,167,779 applications.

Outcome Measures

  • For the 2014-15 entering adjusted cohort1
    • 4-year institutions Ė based on an entering cohort of 4,030,269 undergraduate students
      • The cohort was composed of:
        • Full-time, first-time students (1,862,133 or 46 percent).
        • Part-time, first-time students (316,512 or 8 percent).
        • Full-time, non-first-time students (1,116,459 or 28 percent).
        • Part-time, non-first-time students (735,165 or 18 percent).
      • 8 years after entering an institution, 54 percent of undergraduate students had earned a degree/certificate, 1 percent of students were still enrolled at the institution where they started, and 21 percent of students had subsequently enrolled at another institution at some point during the 8- year period. Enrollment status was unknown for 24 percent of students.
    • 2-year institutions Ė based on an entering cohort of 2,401,237 undergraduate students
      • The cohort was comprised of:
        • Full-time, first-time students (805,939 or 34 percent).
        • Part-time, first-time students (597,107 or 25 percent).
        • Full-time, non-first-time students (385,384 or 16 percent).
        • Part-time, non-first-time students (612,807 or 26 percent).
      • 8 years after entering an institution, 31 percent of students had earned a degree/certificate, 2 percent of students were still enrolled at the institution where they started, and 26 percent of students had subsequently enrolled at another institution at some point during the 8-year period. Enrollment status was unknown for 42 percent of students.
    • 8 years after entering a public institution
      • For full-time, first-time students, 34 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 15 percent had received an associateís degree, and 3 percent had received a certificate
      • For part-time, first-time students 2 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 14 percent had received an associateís degree, and 5 percent had received a certificate
      • For 39 percent of full-time, non-first-time students, 39 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 15 percent had received an associateís degree, and 3 percent had received a certificate
      • For part-time, non-first-time students, 11 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 15 percent had received an associateís degree, and 4 percent had received a certificate
    • 8 years after entering a private nonprofit institution
      • For full-time, first-time students, 63 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 3 percent had received an associateís degree, and 2 percent had received a certificate
      • For part-time, first-time students, 11 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 7 percent had received an associateís degree, and 3 percent had received a certificate
      • For full-time, non-first-time students, 56 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 5 percent had received an associateís degree, and 3 percent had received a certificate
      • For part-time, non-first-time students, 34 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 7 percent had received an associateís degree, and 1 percent had received a certificate
    • 8 years after entering a private for-profit institution
      • For full-time, first-time students, 7 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 13 percent had received an associateís degree, and 30 percent had received a certificate
      • For part-time, first-time students, 4 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 8 percent had received an associateís degree, and 7 percent had received a certificate
      • For full-time, non-first-time students, 20 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 12 percent had received an associateís degree, and 13 percent had received a certificate
      • For part-time, non-first-time students, 23 percent had received a bachelorís degree, 6 percent had received an associateís degree, and 2 percent had received a certificate

1 The adjusted cohort is the revised cohort minus any allowable exclusions. The revised cohort is the number of students entering the institution as degree- or certificate-seeking undergraduates in the reference year. Allowable exclusions include those students who died or were totally and permanently disabled; students who left school to serve in the armed forces (or have been called up to active duty); those who left to serve with a foreign aid service of the federal government, such as the Peace Corps; and those who left to serve on official church missions.

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The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, is the statistical center of the U.S. Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES fulfills a congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition and progress of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.

Follow NCES on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube and subscribe to the NCES Newsflash to receive email notifications when new data are released.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the independent and nonpartisan statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education. Its mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public.

CONTACT:
Josh De La Rosa, National Center for Education Statistics, ARIS.NCES@ed.gov
Erik Robelen, Hager Sharp, erobelen@hagersharp.com