Postsecondary Completion Rate: 2-Year Public Institutions


Percent of students beginning postsecondary at a North Carolina 2-year public institution who complete a degree or credential within 6 years

Last updated: 2018

= Top southern state

(not available for all indicators)



Percent of students beginning postsecondary at a North Carolina community college (2-year public institution) who complete a degree or credential from any institution within 6 years.


North Carolina’s postsecondary completion rate for students who began at a 2-year public institution was 38% in 2018, placing our state 28th among all states. In Florida, the top-performing southern state, the 2-year public postsecondary completion rate was 48%. In South Dakota, the top-performing state overall, this rate was 65%. By 2030, the goal is to have 45% of students who begin college at an NC community college complete a degree or credential within six years.


The postsecondary completion rate represents the rate at which degree- or credential-seeking students complete their studies in a timely fashion. This is partly “a measure of the efficiency with which students complete college.” Specifically, high completion rates mean:

  • more degree production, which is beneficial for economic competitiveness; and
  • a smoothly functioning postsecondary system that can serve more students.

Lower completion rates have costs both to individual students and the communities in which they live. Students who do not complete on time:

“experience costs in terms of receiving lower average earnings, having student debt, and losing time while enrolled in school. Additionally… students who fail to complete a college credential are less likely to go on to work in occupations that offer employment benefits (such as health insurance and pension plans), earn family-sustaining wages, or be civically involved.”


Meeting the 2030 Goal

For North Carolina to meet its 2-year public completion rate goal, an additional 1,930 students who begin college at an NC community college need to complete a degree or credential within six years.

North Carolina’s postsecondary completion rate of 38% for 2-year public institutions means that nearly four in every ten students who began postsecondary at one of North Carolina’s community colleges in fall 2012 completed a degree or credential by 2018. This completion rate was one percentage point below the national average (39%).

Table showing Characteristics of first-time, degree-seeking students at NC community college, Fall 2012, by age, sex, race/ethnicity, and enrollment intensity.Who are North Carolina’s first-time community college students? 

According to research from the National Student Clearinghouse, nearly 28,650 first-time, degree-seeking students began postsecondary at one of North Carolina’s 58 community colleges in fall 2012.

More than six in ten of these students was a relatively recent high school graduate: 62% were age 20 or under. “Non-traditional” age students—first-time students age 25 and older—were nearly a quarter of first-time, degree-seeking enrollments at NC community colleges in fall 2012. Fourteen percent of students were ages 21-24.

Among first-time NC community college students, female students were more common than male students: 53% versus 45%. (The sex of 3% of the fall 2012 entering cohort was unknown.)

Enrollment intensity is based on all observed enrollments between fall 2012 and June 2018 (exclusive of summer and short terms). Two in every three (65%) first-time NC community college students have mixed enrollments, meaning they alternated between full- and part-time enrollments. About one in four (26%) were exclusively full time and one in ten (10%) were exclusively part time.

These patterns have large impacts on the 2-year public completion rate: students who enroll part time are less likely to persist in their enrollments and significantly less likely to complete a degree within six years.

By age

Bar chart showing % of first-time, degree-seeking students at NCCC who earn degree or credential within 6 years, Fall 2012 Cohort, by age, sex, demographic group, enrollment, and overall NC state average.NC community college students who began postsecondary at or before age 20 had the highest completion rates: 42% earned a degree or credential within six years. Students who began college at age 25 or older had the next highest completion rate (35%); students who began at ages 21-24 had the lowest six-year completion rate (27%).

By sex

Female students (40%) had higher completion rates than male students (37%).

By enrollment status

More than half of NC community college students who were enrolled exclusively full time completed a degree or credential within six years (57%). In contrast, less than one in five students enrolled exclusively part time (17%) earned a degree within six years. The completion rate for students with mixed full- and part-time enrollments was 34%, indicating the importance of at least some full-time enrollment for timely degree completion.


Where does the data for postsecondary completion come from?

The data for completion rates by state was downloaded from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center.

The NSC is a nonprofit organization that provides postsecondary enrollment data and verification for more than 3,750 colleges and universities in the United States.

How was the data calculated?

This was a direct download from the NSC Research Center.

Who is included?

From NSC: “first-time-in-college degree-seeking students who started their postsecondary studies at U.S. colleges and universities in the fall of 2012.”

The NSC data includes transfer students.

Who isn’t included?

Non-first-time students, non-degree-seeking students, students who began postsecondary during summer or spring terms, and students who began postsecondary at an institution outside of the United states are not included. Full details on data exclusions are available here.

State-level data is not reported for states with fewer than three postsecondary institutions in a sector.

Collectively, the institutions covered by the NSC data serve 97% of all postsecondary students nationwide and 98% of students in North Carolina. The NSC data does not cover all institutional sectors equally, however, and has lower coverage rates of for-profit institutions. More detail on NSC coverage is available here.

The data used in the development of this indicator is derived from administrative records and is subject to non-sampling error. 


Who is working on this in NC?

Help improve this section

If you know of an organization that is working on this topic in NC, please let us know on the feedback form.

Further research and literature

Bailey, M., & Dynarski, S. (2011). Gains and gaps: changing inequality in U.S. college entry and completion. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Burrus, J., Elliott, D., Brenneman, M., Markle, R., Carney, L., Moore, G., Betancourt, A., et al. (2013). Putting and Keeping Students on Track: Toward a Comprehensive Model of College Persistence and Goal Attainment. Princeton, NJ: ETS.

Long, B. T. (2018). The College Completion Landscape: Trends, Challenges, and Why it Matters. Washington, DC: Third Way.

Shapiro, D., Dundar, A., Huie, F., Wakhungu, P. K., Bhimdiwala, A., & Wilson, S. E. (2018). Completing College: A National View of Student Completion Rates – Fall 2012 Cohort (Signature Report No. 16). Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Tippett, R., & Kahn, N. (2018a). Postsecondary Completion Report: 2009-2011 North Carolina Public High School Graduates. Raleigh, NC: myFutureNC.

Tippett, R., & Kahn, N. (2018b). Postsecondary Pathways & Barriers to Opportunity Report: 2009-2011 NC Public High School Graduates. Raleigh, NC: myFutureNC.

FAQ

Who is identified as a first-time student?

The National Student Clearinghouse defines first-time students as individuals who “did not have a previous enrollment record, as shown in the Clearinghouse data, prior to the first day of enrollment in the fall of 2012, unless the previous enrollment record was before the student turned 18 years old (dual enrollment).” This analysis further excluded individuals who had previously received “any degree or certificate from a postsecondary institution prior to the first day of enrollment in the fall of 2012…unless the award date was before the student turned 18 years old (dual enrollment).”

Does this indicator include students who may be casual course takers with no intention of earning a degree?

No. The National Student Clearinghouse attempts to limit this analysis to only degree-seeking students and “attempted to exclude non-degree-seeking, casual course takers from the [analysis]. For students who first enrolled in four-year institutions, non-degree-seeking students were defined as those who had only one enrollment record with intensity of less than half time.” Students who started at two-year institutions were identified as non-degree-seeking students “if they failed to meet one of the following criteria: (1) one or more full-time enrollments before August 11, 2013; and (2) one or more three-quarter time [enrollments] before December 31, 2013; and (3) two enrollment terms with half-time status before December 31, 2013.” Nationally, this definition excluded more than 307,000 students who began at two-year institutions.


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