Undergraduate Degree Earners
Academic Year 2020-21
June 22, 2022
After the initial standstill at the start of the pandemic, the number of undergraduate credential earners started to rise again, continuing the pre-pandemic upward trend. A total of 3.7 million undergraduate credential earners in the 2020-21 academic year represent a 1.1 percent increase from the previous year.
This overall growth was fueled by students earning stacked credentials, particularly bachelor’s degree earners — including 22,000 additional students who have successfully traversed the community college transfer pathways to the bachelor’s degree.
The overall number of first-time credential earners stabilized following an unusually large drop last year (-0.9% or over 25,000 fewer students). But there is variation by student age. Traditional college-age students under 25 continued to decline in first-time associate degree and certificate completion, the age group comprising the majority of sub-baccalaureate level completers. Notably, non-traditional-age first-time graduates (25 and older) increased this year (+1.4%, +10,350), driven by the graduates in their 30s (+4.3%, +10,700).
The Undergraduate Degree Earners report series, published annually, provides demographic and educational profiles for all students graduating with a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. In the current report, we profile graduates in the 2020-21 academic year, with a focus on first-time versus non-first-time graduates, and changes in demographics and education credentials received over the last nine academic years, since 2012-13. The Appendix provides state-level and regional trends, in addition to the national graduate profiles by age and type of credential received.
The total number of undergraduate credential earners increased by 1.1 percent or 39,000 to 3.7 million graduates. After a brief standstill in the previous year, graduate numbers began to rise again.
The latest growth was led by non-first-time graduates — students earning stacked credentials — who had the largest one-year growth since 2012 (+3.9% or +37,800 students). The growth was more pronounced among bachelor’s degree recipients (+5.1% or +27,700 students).
First-time graduate numbers have stabilized, following an unusually large drop the year prior (-0.9% or – 25,400). Certificate earners continued a downward trend (-2.6% or -11,800), while baccalaureates continued to increase (+0.7% or +10,600). Associate degree earners showed signs of rebound (+0.3% or +2,500) following a major drop the year prior (-3.7% or -28,000).
Traditional college-age students under 25 continued to decline in first-time associate degree and certificate completion, the age group comprising the majority of sub-baccalaureate level completers. An increase in non-traditional-age first-time graduates (25 and older) is notable this year (+1.4%, +10,350) due to the unusual one-year growth in graduates in their 30s (+4.3%, +10,700).