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New College Graduates Decline as Students Increasingly Stack Undergraduate Degrees

Three of 10 Undergraduate Degrees Are Awarded to Students with a Prior Credential

HERNDON, VA, SEPT. 30, 2015 – In 2013-14, the number of new college graduates produced in the U.S. — students earning their first postsecondary credential — fell for a second straight year, while the number of students stacking undergraduate credentials continued a postrecession increase. According to the first annual New College Graduates Report from the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™, the nation’s colleges and universities awarded 1,981,534 associate and bachelor’s degrees to new college graduates in 2013-14, only 0.7 percent more than they awarded in 2010-11 (1,968,334).

Report findings include:

  • As a percentage of all undergraduate degree recipients, new college graduates fell from 75 percent in 2010-11 to 71 percent in 2013-14. The percentage of degree recipients who were stacking credentials, or earning additional undergraduate degrees on top of prior degrees or certificates, grew from 25 percent to 29 percent over this period.
  • Cumulatively, U.S. institutions added over eight million new graduates to the stock of adults with an associate or bachelor’s degree during the four-year period covered in the report. The remaining three million degrees awarded all went to students earning a second or third college credential.
  • Decline was concentrated among women. Over the four-year period, the count of new college graduates minted each year (associate and bachelor’s degrees combined) increased 2.2 percent for men, but decreased 0.4 percent for women.
  • Decline was concentrated among older students. Over the four-year period, the number of new college graduates produced among those under the age of 25 increased 4.4 percent, while for students in the 25 and over categories new college graduates dropped 6.6 percent.
  • Declining shares occurred across all major institutional sectors and all credential levels. Over the four-year period, new college graduates shrank as a percent of all recipients for certificates, associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees, awarded at 2-year public institutions, 4-year public institutions, 4-year private nonprofits, and 4-year for-profits.

“As student educational pathways become longer and more complex, it is no longer sufficient simply to count the number of degrees awarded,” stated Doug Shapiro, Executive Research Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Students are increasingly starting with a postsecondary certificate before earning a degree, and starting with an associates’ before earning a bachelor’s degree. Knowing how many actual new college graduates we are producing is critical to national efforts to increase the number of adults with a postsecondary credential.”

To be published annually, the New College Graduates Report is based on certificate and degree data from postsecondary institutions participating in the National Student Clearinghouse DegreeVerify℠ service. These institutions account for over 87 percent of postsecondary credentials granted by U.S. Title IV eligible degree-granting institutions.

About the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse. The Research Center collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations as part of a national effort to better inform education leaders and policymakers. Through accurate longitudinal data outcomes reporting, the Research Center enables better educational policy decisions leading to improved student outcomes.

To learn more, visit http://research.studentclearinghouse.org.


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