Education Dept. Data Show Rise in Enrollment and Student Aid but Flat Graduation Rates

College enrollment continues to rise, and student aid along with it, but graduation rates have remained level, according to 2008 data released on Tuesday by the U.S. Education Department’s statistical arm.

About 57 percent of first-time, full-time students pursuing bachelor’s degrees at four-year institutions completed their degrees within six years at the colleges where they had begun their studies, the same rate as in the 2007 data, the National Center for Education Statistics reported in an analysis drawing on a series of surveys.

The report, "Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2008; Graduation Rates, 2002 and 2005 Cohorts; and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2008," also showed that about 52 percent of students graduated within five years, and about 36 percent graduated within four years.

The data, collected from the more than 6,600 institutions nationwide that are eligible for federal student aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, cover students who began seeking degrees in 2002 at four-year colleges and those who started at two-year institutions in 2005.

Disparities in graduation rates existed among students who attended private nonprofit institutions and those who attended public institutions. Private nonprofit colleges had higher graduation rates, with about 65 percent of students graduating in six years, compared with public colleges, whose average rate was about 55 percent, and private for-profit colleges, whose rate was about 22 percent.

Women were more likely than men to graduate within four, five, or six years at all institution types except at private for-profit colleges. Seventeen percent of men at those institutions graduated in four years, compared with about 12 percent of women. About 20 percent of men graduated within five years and about 24 percent within six years from that institution type, in contrast to women, whose graduation rates there were about 15 percent and 21 percent in five and six years, respectively.

College enrollment again grew across the board in 2008, with 19.6 million undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in Title IV-eligible institutions. About 62 percent of those students were in four-year colleges, 36 percent in two-year colleges, and 2 percent in institutions with degree programs lasting less than two years.

The department also reported that about 76 percent of first-time, full-time students received some form of financial aid for the 2007-8 academic year, up from about 73 percent the previous year. The increase was spread fairly evenly across higher education, but in one sector the share of students receiving financial aid jumped sharply: 76 percent of students at private, for-profit four-year institutions obtained loans or grants, up from 55 percent in 2006-7, a pattern that reflects the industry’s aggressive pursuit of federal financial-aid dollars for its students.


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