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

Filter by Demographic Group:

Last updated: 2018

= Top southern state :

only available for totals, not available for all indicators

Percent of students beginning postsecondary at a North Carolina institution who complete a degree or credential within 6 years.

North Carolina’s overall postsecondary completion rate was 59% in 2018. This means that nearly six in every ten students who began college in fall 2012 earned a degree or credential within six years. In Virginia, the top-performing Southern state, this rate was 65%.  By 2030, the goal is to have 66% of students who begin at an NC college or university complete a degree or credential within six years. This goal was set by the myFutureNC Commission.

There are well-documented differences in completion rates by institution type and the 2030 goals reflect these differences. We are tracking completion rates for:

There is insufficient data to report on completion rates at for-profit institutions and 2-year private institutions.

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.”

We are tracking completion rates for:

There is insufficient data to report on completion rates at for-profit institutions and 2-year private institutions.

Where does the data for the Postsecondary Completion Rate 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.

NC-focused, state-level dashboards

Name: UNC System Dashboards


About: The UNC Data Dashboard is an interactive, online database that gives students, parents, policymakers and taxpayers expanded access to detailed system data on selected core measures.

Name: NCCCS Dashboards


About: The North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) dashboards allow users to explore and interact with NCCCS data by theme. The dashboards are designed to help colleges access the data and information needed to facilitate institutional effectiveness and program improvement. Dashboards include system and college-level data views, disaggregations, historical trends, and peer comparisons.

Name: NC Chamber Dashboard 2030


About: Dashboard 2030 informs dialogue and catalyzes action to address North Carolina’s economic development challenges and opportunities. It provides independent and objective data on leading indicators in four critical areas important for state and business competitiveness.

Name: NC Tower


About: NC TOWER is a web-based delivery system providing aggregate information on students who attended public universities and community colleges in North Carolina. These data include programs of study, degrees attained, further enrollment, and wage and employment information.

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.


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.”


 Previous indicator

Next indicator  

Key Transition Points

North Carolina County Profiles

Click to view North Carolina County Educational Profiles

Alamance Alexander Alleghany Anson Ashe Avery Beaufort Bertie Bladen Brunswick Buncombe Burke Cabarrus Caldwell Camden Carteret Caswell Catawba Chatham Cherokee Chowan Clay Cleveland Columbus Craven Cumberland Currituck Dare Davidson Davie Duplin Durham Edgecombe Forsyth Franklin Gaston Gates Graham Granville Greene Guilford Halifax Harnett Haywood Henderson Hertford Hoke Hyde Iredell Jackson Johnston Jones Lee Lenoir Lincoln McDowell Macon Madison Martin Mecklenburg Mitchell Montgomery Moore Nash NewHanover Northampton Onslow Orange Pamlico Pasquotank Pender Perquimans Person Pitt Polk Randolph Richmond Robeson Rockingham Rowan Rutherford Sampson Scotland Stanly Stokes Surry Swain Transylvania Tyrrell Union Vance Wake Warren Washington Watauga Wayne Wilkes Wilson Yadkin Yancey

All County Attainment Profiles