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National Study of Non-First-Time Students Shows Disturbing Completion Rates

October 07, 2014

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​In the first national effort to benchmark the persistence patterns of non-first-time college students, researchers found that only 33.7 percent completed their degree, compared with 54.1 percent of first-time students. The number of adult learners who re-entered higher education between 2005 and 2008 but have not completed their degree (2,535,946) would almost fill the city of Chicago.

The benchmarking initiative​ is a cooperative effort between ACE, InsideTrack, NASPA – Student Administrators in Higher Education, the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and the National Student Clearinghouse. It was designed to begin addressing the lack of publicly available data on the success of adults returning to college.

The results come at a critical time as leaders across the country work to increase college attainment rates among working adults.

According to the organizations partnering on the study, the idea that a disparity in outcomes exists between non-first-time (NFT) and first-time (FT) students is not new. But now that the data quantifies the size of the disparity and highlights the differences in state completion rates, it raises concerns about how effectively our nation’s higher education system addresses the needs of returning students.

According to Cathy Sandeen, ACE’s vice president for education attainment and innovation, the group has just begun its analysis. It plans to release additional findings at the ACE-UPCEA Summit for Online Leadership and Strategy in January following discussions with educational leaders and others throughout the fall.

“We’ve just scratched the surface in analyzing this data and look forward to engaging our colleagues across the higher education community in a meaningful dialogue on the important issues it raises,” notes Sandeen.

“One thing is certain,” says Dave Jarrat, vice president of marketing at InsideTrack, who organized the study, “if our nation expects the more than 30 million adults with some college but no degree to complete a credential, we need to do a much better job supporting them once they’ve made the decision to re-enroll.”

To read the full results of the analysis, click here​

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