Good news on the education front: New data described in the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s Completing College State Report shows a rise in the overall college completion rate in 43 out of the 45 states, for which data are available over the last five cohort years (2009-2013), and a narrowing of the top-to-bottom state completion rate gaps. Only Alabama and New Hampshire saw declines.

Change in Overall Six-Year College Completion Rate by State

When indexed to the highest completion rate of all states (set at 100), for the 2013 cohort, 25 states were at least at the 80 percent level of the top rate, in comparison to only 13 states for the 2009 cohort, according to a National Student Clearinghouse Research Center news release. The index score demonstrates a comparison of each state against the top-performing state.

The national six-year completion rate reached 59.7% for the 2013 entering cohort, and the eight-year completion rate increased to 61.8% for the 2011 entering cohort, according to the Completing College 2019 National Report.

“Most states saw steady, across-the-board gains in overall completion rates and completion rate disparities among states narrowed, while nearly every state trended upward,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in the news release. “Compared to the prior cohort year, community college starters made stronger gains this year than public four-year starters, and some states increased completion outcomes for racial/ethnic minorities at higher rates than overall.”

Big Increases

The states with the largest increases in completion rates over the last five cohort years according to the news release include:

Ohio (53% to 62%), Georgia (52% to 61%), Michigan (51% to 60%), New York (58% to 66%), California (45% to 53%), Utah (41% to 51%), Iowa (60% to 69%), Nevada (29% to 38%), and North Carolina (54% to 62%).

While public college completion rates are up generally, public two-year starters appear to be gaining more ground.

Between the 2012 and 2013 cohorts, the completion rate for public two-year starters increased three percentage points or more in eight states including Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Wyoming. The greatest increase was four percentage points in Oklahoma (34% to 38%) and Mississippi (46% to 50%). In comparison, only three states have made similar gains for public four-year starters: Nevada, New Mexico, and Ohio.

Two states improved both Hispanic and African American completion rates at higher rates than overall.

North Carolina and Texas saw the Hispanic and the African American student completion rates rise at higher rates than overall, based on change over the last cohort year.

North Carolina made a four-percentage point gain in the Hispanic completion rate, to 77%, and a two-percentage-point increase in the African American completion rate, to 63%. Hispanic and African American students constitute 27% of the fall 2013 beginning cohort in the state.

Texas increased nearly three percentage points in the completion rate for each student group, to 49% for African Americans and 59% for Hispanics. Hispanics and African Americans combined consist of 46% of the fall 2013 beginning students in Texas.

More Gains

Other states show notable one-year gains for African Americans or Hispanics according to the news release:

Florida is up two percentage points to 53% for Hispanics; and for African Americans, Massachusetts is up two percentage points to 66% and New Jersey is up three percentage points to 66%.

However, New York decreased almost three percentage points in Asian and African American completion rates over the last year (to 70% and 51%, respectively), and Pennsylvania dropped four percentage points to 62% for Hispanics.

First-time beginning students at community colleges are becoming younger.

Eight states had more than a three percentage point increase in the share of traditional-age students (age 20 or younger at entry) between the 2012 and 2013 beginning cohorts (Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Kansas).

New Hampshire (69% to 74%) and Arizona (66% to 70%) had the largest share increases. These two states also saw large decreases in the share of adult students age 25 or over (22% to 18% in Arizona; 17% to 14% in New Hampshire). However, for public four-year starters, the share of traditional-age students grew by three percentage points in only two states, Maryland (67% to 73%) and Oregon (81% to 88%).

“With better tracking and disaggregation of data increasingly available to state education leaders and policymakers through the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, efforts to improve student success can become more focused,” Shapiro said in the news release.

In the fall, the Research Center will publish a combined national and state Completing College 2020 report.

Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center