Completing College
National and State Reports

December 3, 2020

The national six-year college completion rate has started to plateau, showing a 0.3 percentage point increase to 60.1 percent. This is by far the smallest improvement of the last five years. The six-year completion rate for community college starters declined. The national eight-year completion rate fell. The six-year rate was slow to improve at the state level compared to last year.  

This is the ninth report in the Completing College report series, featuring the six-year college completion outcomes for the fall 2014 entering cohort, the eight-year outcomes for the fall 2012 entering cohort, and the six-year outcomes by state. Starting this year, national and state-level completion outcomes are combined into one report.

The Completing College report series provides a comprehensive overview of postsecondary completion trends nationally and by state. For all students who enter postsecondary education for the first time each year, it examines the diverse pathways the student traversed toward completion, as well as a degree or certificate completion rate within six and eight years of enrolling.

The completion rates account for all students who enter postsecondary education for the first time each year, enrolling full-time or part-time at two-year or four-year institutions, and completing at any U.S. degree-granting institution. The results include those who complete after transfer, not just completions at the starting institution. Thus, the report more fully captures today’s students’ diverse pathways to success, that increasingly involve mobility across institutions and across state lines, re-entry after stop-out, and changes in enrollment intensities.


  • The national six-year completion rate has plateaued, increasing 0.3 percentage points, the smallest increase of the past five years. A slowing of progress is driven by traditional-age students and community college starters having lost ground.

  • The national eight-year completion rate fell for the first time in three years, down 0.5 percentage points.

  • The six-year completion rate dropped 0.5 percentage points at community colleges after having risen for two consecutive years, while public four-year colleges improved by 0.7 percentage points.

  • The six-year completion rate of community college starters declined for Hispanic and Black students, despite previous growth. For public four-year starters, Black students made stronger gains than white students.

  • In line with national trends, the six-year completion rate was slow to improve at the state level, with more states experiencing a decline compared to last year.

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