Here’s Why the College Graduation Rate Is So Low
Life + Money

Here’s Why the College Graduation Rate Is So Low


One of the nuances often lost in the discussion of student loan debt  is the plight of students who borrow for college and don’t graduate, leaving them with a mountain of debt and without the degree that would give them the earning power to pay that debt down.

That situation may describe more students than previously thought. Nearly half of students who started college in 2009 still hadn’t graduated four years later, according to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Center.

The report found that 52.9 percent of college students in the 2009 cohort received a degree within six years of enrollment, a 2.1 percentage point decline from the previous year. At public four-year schools, the six-year graduation rate was 61.2 percent, while the rate at private schools was 71.5 percent. The graduation rate for students at two-year programs was much lower at 38.1 percent, down from 39.1 percent for the 2008 cohort.

Related: 10 Public Colleges with the Worst Graduation Rates

Part-time students had the lowest completion rates and the highest dropout rates. Despite the lower college completion rate, more students graduated from college during the period, since overall enrollment increased during the worst of the Great Recession.

One reason that students are failing to complete college may be a lack of preparation in secondary school, according to a paper released last year by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, titled “America’s College Drop-Out Epidemic: Understanding the College Drop-Out Population.”

“Administrators and policy makers should use caution when assuming the best way to increase postsecondary degree attainment is to increase college enrollment,” author Erin Dunlop Velez argues. “Given current levels of academic preparation in secondary schools, many students are not prepared for success at four-year, and even two-year colleges.”