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Percent of students beginning postsecondary education at a University of North Carolina system school (4-year public institution) who complete a degree or credential from any institution within 6 years. These rates were updated for 2022, referring to students who began in 2016.
North Carolina’s postsecondary completion rate for students who began at a 4-year public institution was 77% in 2022, placing our state 7th among all states. In Iowa, the state with the highest 4-year public postsecondary completion rate, 81% of students beginning at a 4-year public university in 2016 earned a degree or credential within six years. In Virginia, the top-performing southern state, this rate was 80%.
By 2030, the goal is to have 80% of students who begin postsecondary education at a University of North Carolina system school complete a degree or credential within six years. This goal was set by the myFutureNC Commission.
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:
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.”
For North Carolina to meet its goal, an additional 894 students who begin postsecondary in the UNC System need to complete a degree or credential within six years.
North Carolina’s postsecondary completion rate of 77% for 4-year public institutions means that more than three out of every four students who began postsecondary at one of North Carolina’s public universities in the fall of 2016 completed a degree or credential by 2022. This completion rate was nine percentage points above the national average (68%).
Students who began postsecondary education in the UNC System at or before age 20 had the highest completion rates: 78% earned a degree or credential within six years. Students who began college at age 25 or older had the next highest completion rate (75%); students who began at ages 21-24 had the lowest six-year completion rate (63%).
Female students (80%) had higher completion rates than male students (75%).
Asian students who began postsecondary education at a UNC System school had the highest postsecondary completion rate: 88% completed a degree or credential within six years. White students (83%) had the next highest rate followed by Hispanic (73%) and Black (63%) students.
Eighty-eight percent of UNC System students who were enrolled exclusively full-time completed a degree or credential within six years. In contrast, 39% of students enrolled exclusively part-time earned a degree within six years. The completion rate for students with mixed full- and part-time enrollments was 51%, indicating the importance of at least some full-time enrollments for timely degree completion.
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 3,600 colleges and universities in the United States.
This was a direct download from the NSC Research Center.
From NSC: “First-time-in-college degree-seeking students who started their postsecondary studies at U.S. colleges and universities in the fall of 2016.”
The NSC data includes transfer students.
Non-first-time students, non-degree-seeking students, students who began postsecondary education during summer or spring terms, and students who began postsecondary studies 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. For instance, coverage rates are lower for 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.
If you know of an organization that is working on this topic in NC, please let us know on the feedback form.
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: 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.
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.
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).”
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.”