In late 2018, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center published its annual data on national college completion rates. It looks at the six-year cohort completion rate of degree-seeking students entering two-year or four-year college programs for the first time in the fall of 2012, which comprised 2,269,618 individuals attending at an intensity of half-time or higher.

They find that 58 percent of starting students had completed at least one degree or credential in that time. Students who started at four-year institutions were almost twice as likely to complete as students who started at two-year institutions. Asian students, both men and women, had the highest completion rates, followed by white, Hispanic, and black students. Women had higher completion rates than men across the board. Most disappointingly, black men had the lowest completion rate (36 percent) and the highest stop-out rates (those who had earned no degree or certificate, and had no enrollment activity during the final year of the study window), with nearly half stopping out by the end of the period.

A companion piece published in March breaks down the data state by state and gives us an Ohio snapshot. The Buckeye State’s fall 2012 cohort included 91,418 students, and just over 51 percent of them were exclusively full-time scholars throughout their college careers, however long they lasted. It was about evenly split between men and women, with women having a slight edge in enrollments, mirroring the national cohort. Eighty percent of Ohio college enrollees were twenty years old or younger—“traditional age” students—slightly above the national rate of 78 percent. Adult learners (over the age of twenty-four) comprised 12 percent and delayed entry students (between twenty and twenty-four years old) were 8 percent in Ohio.

Of the Ohio cohort, the largest proportion of students (54 percent) were enrolled at four-year public institutions, followed four-year private nonprofit institutions (23 percent) and two-year public institutions (23 percent). Unfortunately, Ohio was one of just a few states where race and ethnicity breakdowns were not included in completion rates.

And how did Buckeye collegians fare? Just as in the national cohort, students starting at Ohio’s four-year private institutions were most likely to complete, with 73 percent of them earning degrees at some point in the six-year study period. That compares with 64 percent of students staring at four-year public institutions and a worrisome 33 percent of students starting at two-year public institutions, well below the national rate of 39 percent. Additionally, the stop-out rate for Ohio students starting at two-year public institutions was more than double the rate for students staring at four-year institutions. They also exhibited minimal mobility during the study period, with between 80 and 90 percent finishing at the same institution at which they started, depending on type of institution. A mere 4 percent of students who started at a two-year institution subsequently transferred to a four-year institution to complete their first degree.

When it comes to college completion, Ohio is a trend-follower, not a trend-setter, it seems. The data are interesting as far as they go, but how those numbers play into important conversations about equity, quality, access, and the value of postsecondary education is still unclear. And if Ohio does want to become a trend-setter, as it purports, publishing disaggregated data and improving completion rates at community colleges and transfers to four-year institutions would be great places to start.

SOURCE: Doug Shapiro, et al, “Completing College: A State-Level View of Student Completion Rates (Signature Report No. 16a),” National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (March 2019).

Policy Priority:

Jeff Murray is a lifelong resident of central Ohio. He previously worked at School Choice Ohio and the Greater Columbus Arts Council. He has two degrees from the Ohio State University. He lives in the Clintonville neighborhood with his wife and twin daughters. He is proud every day to support the Fordham mission to help make excellent education options more numerous and more readily available for families and…

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