College Completion Rates Stagnate, But Community Colleges See Slight Increase

Community colleges saw their completion rate rise from 42.2% for the 2015 cohort year to 43.1% in the 2016 cohort year, outpacing the national average growth.
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  • Community colleges saw a college completion growth rate higher than the national average, according to a National Student Clearinghouse report.
  • The completion rate at community colleges nationwide rose from 42.2% for the 2015 cohort to 43.1% in the 2016 cohort.
  • The national six-year college completion rate was 62.3% for the 2016 cohort year compared with 62.2% for the 2015 cohort year.
  • College completion rates have been on the rise across the board for more than a decade.

Although the national college completion rate stagnated over the past year, community colleges continued to see modest increases as part of a long-term trend.

The national six-year college completion rate was 62.3% for the 2016 cohort year, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse — virtually unchanged from the 62.2% for the 2015 cohort after years of relatively steady growth.

But although completion rates fell at public and private four-year colleges over the past year, contributing to the stalled nationwide rate, public two-year colleges saw their rate continue to increase. The completion rate at community colleges nationwide rose from 42.2% for the 2015 cohort to 43.1% in the 2016 cohort.

That continues a slow upward trend in college completion rates that has been ongoing since the 2008 cohort, according to the National Student Clearinghouse data.

The college completion rate was 39.1% for the 2008 cohort. And although it dipped slightly in 2009 and 2011, the trend for college completion at public two-year colleges, along with other institution types, has been largely positive.

Roughly 45.4% of community college students in the fall 2016 cohort weren't enrolled in any institution after six years, according to the study. Another 11.5% were still enrolled at any institution; 3.1% had completed their education at a different two-year institution, and 8.1% had completed their education at a four-year institution. About 31.9% finished their education at their original community college.

In the fall 2015 cohort, 45.2% of students weren't enrolled in any institution after six years; 12.6% were still enrolled; 3.2% completed their degree at another two-year college; 8.2% finished their degree at a four-year institution, and 30.8% finished their degree at their original community college.

Although the national college completion rate stalled over the past year, figures remained up across the board compared with the 2008 cohort, reflecting a nationwide drive to boost college completion rates.

Those efforts have been bolstered by grants from the Department of Education. Earlier this year, for instance, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced a $5 million fund to boost college retention and completion rates for students of color.

College completion programs have been shown to be effective in increasing completion rates, BestColleges previously reported.

Students in the City University of New York's ASAP advising program have three-year graduation rates nearly double that of students who aren't part of the system's program. A similar program in Ohio likewise saw success.

Colleges have also stepped up efforts to reenroll students who didn't finish their degree.

The University of California system recently launched a nearly $5 million effort to help students finish their degrees, BestColleges previously reported, and an Ohio partnership of community colleges and universities tied debt forgiveness to stopped-out students who head back to higher education.