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.

Highlights

  • 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). 

2020-21 Graduate Profile (N=3.7M)

Overall Undergraduate Credential Earners

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