Report Reveals Average Time to Degree
The National Student Clearinghouse has issued a report, Time to Degree: A National View of the Time Enrolled and Elapsed for Associate and Bachelor’s Degree Earners, concerning the time it takes undergraduate students to graduate. The report considered students who received their first Associate’s degree or Bachelor’s degree in 2014-15, finding that the average enrollment time was 3.3 years for an Associate’s degree and 5.1 years for a Bachelor’s degree. The average elapsed time was 5.5 years for an Associate’s degree and 5.7 years for a Bachelor’s degree.
Elapsed time measures the duration from start to finish while enrolled time counts only the time when the student was actually enrolled, weighted based on the student’s enrollment status. Increases in enrolled time increases tuition costs, while increases in elapsed time increases opportunity costs.
Among Bachelor’s degree recipients, enrolled time was 5.2 years at public 4-year colleges, compared with 4.8 years at private non-profit 4-year colleges and 5.8 years at private for-profit colleges. Elapsed time was 5.6 years at public 4-year colleges, 5.4 years at private non-profit 4-year colleges and 8.8 years at private for-profit colleges.
Dual enrollment reduces average time to degree, both for enrolled and elapsed time. Dual enrollment saves 0.6 years of enrolled time (2.9 years vs. 3.5 years) and 1.8 years of elapsed time (4.1 years vs. 5.9 years) for Associate’s degree recipients. Dual enrollment provides less of a benefit in enrolled time (0.3 years), but still yields savings of 1.1 years in elapsed time.
Enrolling in multiple colleges is common, with 56.6\\% of Bachelor’s degree recipients attending two or more colleges.
Prior receipt of an Associate’s degree before receiving a Bachelor’s degree increases average time to a Bachelor’s degree.
Average enrolled time was 0.7 years higher for students who received an Associate’s degree before receiving a Bachelor’s degree (5.7 years vs. 5.0 years). Average elapsed time was 3.1 years higher (8.2 years vs. 5.1 years). Bachelor’s degree recipients who did not receive an Associate’s degree may nevertheless have enrolled at a community college. Among Bachelor’s degree recipients with prior enrollment in a 2-year institution, average enrolled time was 0.5 years longer (5.3 years vs. 4.8 years) and average elapsed time was 1.5 years longer (6.0 years vs. 4.5 years), as compared with students who did not have prior enrollment in a 2-year college.
Causes of increased enrolled and elapsed time include remediation, changing majors, transferring to a different college, working while enrolled, taking a less intense course load and difficulty in scheduling required classes.
The National Student Clearinghouse report was based on data from 3,600 colleges covering 96.5\\% of U.S. postsecondary enrollments. In 2014-15, a total of 2.05 million undergraduate students graduated, 573,000 with received Associate’s degrees and 1.47 million with Bachelor’s degrees.
The data from the National Student Clearinghouse differs from the data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) because NCES data is limited to students who graduated from the same institution, while Clearinghouse data considers students who transferred. NCES data also considers only students who were initially enrolled full-time. The NCES data considers a cohort of students who first enrolled in a particular academic year, while the Clearinghouse data considers a cohort of students who graduated in a particular academic year. The Clearinghouse can disaggregate its data by student-level characteristics, like age, gender and enrollment intensity, while NCES cannot.