What Students Can Do To Increase Their Chances Of Finishing College

The following is derived from a 8.5  year study of student transcripts comparing those who finished college after high school and those that did not.

Academic Momentum to Complete Degrees By

Clifford Adelman, USA Education Department, 2006

Higher Education Data – analysis is for four-year colleges only; 8.5 years longitudinal data that follows same students through transcript analysis of their college careers.


  • 90% of students who leave their first college turn up at another institution after their first year (suggests first year dropout rates false).
  • Much data and reporting mixes 19 year olds with 31 year old college students.
  • See students as more active rather than passive in a pipeline from k-12 to college. What should students do to persist?
  • “Pipelines” are unidirectional closed spaces with students passively swept along or leaking at joints, this is a bad metaphor for how system works.
  • Student path is not like a pipeline—starts, stops, moves sideways, pursues several paths.
  • 60% of undergraduates go to more than one institution, 20% go out of state, 7% area based in four-year institutions, but also attend community college, 8% “swirl” back and forth between four-year and two-year.
  • Can anyone project college completion rates for next decade using current data for states? National sample data over 8-11 years provides a more complex picture.

Advice for students on how to improve chances of college completion

  • Do not delay college entry after high school. Stay continuously enrolled, do not stop out.
  • Attainment during second academic college year is crucial –can recapture academic momentum and complete “gate-way core courses.”
  • Earning four or more credits in summer—positive contributor to degree completion, so enroll all year around for some credits
  • Part-time attendance hurts a lot in terms of completion probability
  • What is influence on degree completion of attending multi institutions? 60% of students do this!

Remediation seems to help completion in four-year, less so in two-year.

Withdrawal or repeating courses without penalty is big negative in terms of completion

High School Issues

Many course requirements or course sequences are vague “11th Grade English,” Applied Biology may not mean college prep level. Need common high school content standards within more specific course labels.

One comment on “What Students Can Do To Increase Their Chances Of Finishing College”

  1. We agree that the best way to succeed in college is by entering college right out of High School and by not stopping but by continuing until you are finished. Also, intrinsic motivation plays a key role.

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