First-Time Graduates and Graduates with Prior Awards

The Undergraduate Degree Earner’s Report replaces a report series originally released as the New College Graduates Report in September 2015.

The total number of undergraduate degree earners has remained nearly constant over the last four years, with 2,804,133 students earning associate and bachelor’s degrees in 2014-15, a 0.3 percent increase from 2011-12. However, the number of those graduates who had earned prior awards grew by 12.4 percent in that timeframe, while the number of first-time graduates — students earning their first undergraduate degree — has fallen by 2.6 percent (Figure 1). This means that as a percentage of all undergraduate degree earners, students who were earning additional undergraduate degrees on top of prior awards grew from 19.5 percent in 2011-12 to 21.8 percent in 2014-15 (Figure 2).

Of students who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2014-15, 76.5 percent were first-time graduates (had no prior award), 3.2 percent had previously earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, 18.9 percent had previously earned an associate degree, and 1.4 percent had previously earned a certificate (Figure 3). Of students who earned an associate degree in 2014-15, 81.4 percent were first-time graduates (had no prior award), 3.5 percent had previously earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, 7.0 percent had previously earned an associate degree, and 8.1 percent had previously earned a certificate (Figure 4).

First-time graduate trends varied by age group and gender (Tables 2-7). Over the four-year period in this report, the count of first-time graduates (associate and bachelor’s degrees combined) increased 4.3 percent for students under the age of 25, but decreased for all other age groups. Taken as a whole, first-time graduates in the 25 and over categories dropped 15.4 percent since 2011-12, reflecting postrecession enrollment declines among older students. By gender, the count of first-time graduates decreased 4.0 percent for women, and decreased 0.5 percent for men.

ABOUT THE DATA

Based on student-level enrollment and degree data from the National Student Clearinghouse, the Undergraduate Degree Earners Report differentiates between students earning their first postsecondary award and students earning additional undergraduate awards on top of ones earned in prior years. Each student is counted as a first-time graduate only once, in the academic year of his or her first postsecondary award. In Figures 1 and 2 only recipients of associate and bachelor’s degrees are counted as first-time graduates. However, the prior awards which distinguish first-time graduates from repeat graduates include both degrees and certificates. Counts may differ from those reported in earlier versions of this report, to reflect additional historical data reported to the Clearinghouse since publication. More information on Clearinghouse degree coverage and definitions can be found in the notes section at the end of this report.

Figure 1: Number of First-Time Graduates and Graduates with Prior Awards

UDE 2014-15 Fig. 1
Figure 1 shows counts of students earning undergraduate degrees (bachelor’s and associates combined) in each academic year, disaggregated by first-time graduate status. The number of first-time graduates has been falling, while the number of graduates with prior awards (which may include degrees or certificates) has continued a postrecession increase.

Figure 2: Distribution of Undergraduate Degree Earners by Prior Award Status

UDE 2014-15 Fig. 2
Figure 2 shows that in 2011-12, 19.5 percent of all bachelor’s and associate degree recipients were students who had already earned a postsecondary award in a previous year. By 2014-15, students with prior awards accounted for 21.8 percent of all undergraduate degree recipients.

Figure 3: Bachelor’s Degree Earners – Distribution of Prior Awards

UDE 2014-15 Fig. 3

Figure 3 shows the percentage distribution of prior awards for students who earned a bachelor’s degree in each of the last four academic years. In 2014-15, 76.5 percent were first-time graduates (had no prior award), 3.2 percent had previously earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, 18.9 percent had previously earned an associate degree, and 1.4 percent had previously earned a certificate.

Figure 4: Associate Degree Earners – Distribution of Prior Awards

UDE 2014-15 Fig. 4

Figure 4 shows the percentage distribution of prior awards for students who earned an associate degree in each of the last four academic years. In 2014-15, 81.4 percent were first-time graduates (had no prior award), 3.5 percent had previously earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, 7.0 percent had previously earned an associate degree, and 8.1 percent had previously earned a certificate.

Table 1: Undergraduate Degree Earners by Level of Prior Award

 

2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Bachelor’s Degree Earners
Prior Master’s 2,970 0.2% 3,405 0.2% 3,344 0.2% 3,476 0.2%
Prior Bachelor’s 47,864 2.7% 51,476 2.8% 53,353 2.9% 54,969 3.0%
Prior Associate 318,000 17.8% 335,137 18.4% 336,959 18.4% 349,211 18.9%
Prior Certificate 21,178 1.2% 23,457 1.3% 25,089 1.4% 26,400 1.4%
First-Time Graduates (No Prior Award) 1,396,795 78.2% 1,407,265 77.3% 1,408,334 77.1% 1,411,441 76.5%
Total Bachelor’s Degree Earners 1,786,807 100.0% 1,820,740 100.0% 1,827,079 100.0% 1,845,497 100.0%
Associate Degree Earners
Prior Master’s 2,336 0.2% 2,486 0.3% 2,691 0.3% 2,935 0.3%
Prior Bachelor’s 27,261 2.7% 28,384 2.9% 30,063 3.1% 30,525 3.2%
Prior Associate 58,357 5.8% 63,557 6.5% 67,608 7.0% 66,852 7.0%
Prior Certificate 66,814 6.6% 69,373 7.1% 75,559 7.8% 77,910 8.1%
First-Time Graduates (No Prior Award) 852,801 84.6% 812,344 83.2% 787,595 81.7% 780,414 81.4%
Total Associate Degree Earners 1,007,570 100.0% 976,145 100.0% 963,517 100.0% 958,635 100.0%
Certificate Earners
Prior Master’s 12,028 2.3% 13,103 2.5% 15,517 2.9% 15,686 3.0%
Prior Bachelor’s 34,678 6.6% 38,219 7.2% 41,262 7.6% 40,770 7.7%
Prior Associate 30,517 5.8% 32,932 6.2% 33,890 6.3% 34,306 6.5%
Prior Certificate 40,564 7.7% 42,931 8.1% 48,039 8.9% 49,223 9.3%
First-Time Graduates (No Prior Award) 411,239 77.7% 404,668 76.1% 402,359 74.4% 388,345 73.5%
Total Certificate Earners 529,026 100.0% 531,855 100.0% 541,067 100.0% 528,330 100.0%


Table 1
provides counts of undergraduate degree earners grouped by the level of their most recent prior award (if any). Students with no prior award are first-time graduates. Academic years run from July 1 to June 30. In this report, certificate refers to undergraduate and graduate-level certificates, since it was not possible for institutions to make this distinction in Clearinghouse data submissions prior to 2013-14. Certificate earners with no prior awards are classified as first-time graduates.

Table 2: Count of First-Time Graduates Earning Bachelor’s Degrees by Gender, Age, and Institutional Sector

 

2011-12 Change from Prior Year 2012-13 Change from Prior Year 2013-14 Change from Prior Year 2014-15 Change from Prior Year
Overall
First-Time Graduates Earning Bachelor’s Degrees  1,396,795 3.9%  1,407,265 0.7%  1,408,334 0.1%  1,411,441 0.2%
Gender
Female  782,531 3.8%  786,734 0.5%  782,689 -0.5%  783,052 0.0%
Male  614,264 4.0%  620,531 1.0%  625,644 0.8%  628,390 0.4%
Age Group
Under 25  1,069,043 3.3%  1,082,713 1.3%  1,104,069 2.0%  1,117,270 1.2%
25-29  141,358 2.4%  140,314 -0.7%  137,002 -2.4%  135,183 -1.3%
30-39  95,273 6.3%  95,403 0.1%  88,242 -7.5%  84,715 -4.0%
40-49  59,275 9.5%  57,506 -3.0%  50,650 -11.9%  46,728 -7.7%
50 and Over  28,800 13.4%  29,117 1.1%  26,721 -8.2%  26,197 -2.0%
Institutional Sector
4-Year Public  881,126 3.5%  887,763 0.8%  902,504 1.7%  908,386 0.7%
4-Year Private Nonprofit  436,494 2.3%  440,882 1.0%  445,176 1.0%  446,762 0.4%
4-Year Private For-Profit  77,693 17.4%  77,419 -0.4%  60,184 -22.3%  55,024 -8.6%

 

Table 2 shows the count of bachelor’s degree recipients in each year and category who were first-time graduates. First-time graduates are defined as students who earned a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or certificate as their first postsecondary credential. Each student is counted as a first-time college graduate only once, in the academic year of his or her first postsecondary credential. Academic years run from July 1 to June 30.

Table 3: First-Time Graduates Earning Bachelor’s Degrees as Percentage of All Bachelor’s Degree Earners by Gender, Age, and Sector

 

2011-12 Change from Prior Year 2012-13 Change from Prior Year 2013-14 Change from Prior Year 2014-15 Change from Prior Year
Overall
First-Time Graduates Earning Bachelor’s Degrees as Percentage of All Bachelor’s Degree Earners 78.2% -0.7 77.3% -0.9 77.1% -0.2 76.5% -0.6
Gender
Female 76.3% -1.0 75.3% -1.0 75.1% -0.2 74.4% -0.7
Male 80.6% -0.3 79.9% -0.7 79.7% -0.3 79.3% -0.4
Age Group
Under 25 88.7% 0.3 88.3% -0.4 88.1% -0.2 87.9% -0.2
25-29 57.6% -1.0 56.3% -1.2 55.4% -0.9 54.2% -1.2
30-39 50.5% -2.4 48.6% -1.9 47.0% -1.6 44.8% -2.2
40-49 59.8% -2.0 57.6% -2.3 54.6% -2.9 51.9% -2.7
50 and Over 65.2% -1.0 62.5% -2.7 61.6% -0.9 59.9% -1.7
Institutional Sector
4-Year Public 78.2% -0.3 77.1% -1.1 76.4% -0.7 75.6% -0.7
4-Year Private Nonprofit 83.4% -0.5 82.6% -0.8 82.0% -0.6 81.4% -0.6
4-Year Private For-Profit 57.9% -1.9 58.1% 0.2 59.2% 1.1 59.7% 0.5


Table 3
shows the percentage of bachelor’s degree recipients in each year and category who were first-time graduates. First-time graduates are defined as students who earned a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or certificate as their first postsecondary credential. Each student is counted as a first-time graduate only once, in the academic year of his or her first postsecondary credential. Academic years run from July 1 to June 30.

Table 4: Count of First-Time Graduates Earning Associate Degrees by Gender, Age, and Sector

 

2011-12 Change from Prior Year 2012-13 Change from Prior Year 2013-14 Change from Prior Year 2014-15 Change from Prior Year
Overall
First-Time Graduates Earning Associate Degrees  852,801 9.1%  812,344 -4.7%  787,595 -3.0%  780,414 -0.9%
Gender
Female  517,052 8.9%  490,572 -5.1%  470,975 -4.0%  463,918 -1.5%
Male  335,750 9.4%  321,772 -4.2%  316,620 -1.6%  316,496 0.0%
Age Group
Under 25  403,496 6.4%  397,827 -1.4%  408,528 2.7%  418,389 2.4%
25-29  150,675 9.2%  142,022 -5.7%  135,555 -4.6%  133,679 -1.4%
30-39  162,099 12.1%  149,412 -7.8%  136,559 -8.6%  130,473 -4.5%
40-49  91,485 14.0%  81,512 -10.9%  70,628 -13.4%  64,324 -8.9%
50 and Over  42,421 18.5%  38,403 -9.5%  34,242 -10.8%  31,680 -7.5%
Institutional Sector
4-Year Public  104,872 15.3%  102,717 -2.1%  105,910 3.1%  112,121 5.9%
4-Year Private Nonprofit  37,748 14.3%  37,301 -1.2%  37,390 0.2%  36,853 -1.4%
4-Year Private For-Profit  126,740 7.1%  106,401 -16.0%  72,500 -31.9%  62,602 -13.7%
2-Year Public  513,555 8.2%  515,540 0.4%  522,880 1.4%  517,045 -1.1%

 

Table 4 shows the count of associate degree recipients in each year and category who were first-time graduates. First-time graduates are defined as students who earned a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or certificate as their first postsecondary credential. Each student is counted as a first-time graduate only once, in the academic year of his or her first postsecondary credential. Academic years run from July 1 to June 30

Table 5: First-Time Graduates Earning Associate Degrees as Percentage of All Associate Degree Earners by Gender, Age, and Sector

 

2011-12 Change from Prior Year 2012-13 Change from Prior Year 2013-14 Change from Prior Year 2014-15 Change from Prior Year
Overall
First-Time Graduates Earning Associate Degrees as Percentage of All Associate Degree Earners 84.6% 0.3 83.2% -1.4 81.7% -1.5 81.4% -0.3
Gender
Female 83.3% 0.4 81.8% -1.5 80.3% -1.6 80.0% -0.3
Male 86.7% 0.0 85.4% -1.3 84.0% -1.4 83.6% -0.4
Age Group
Under 25 91.0% 0.7 90.1% -0.8 89.6% -0.6 89.6% 0.1
25-29 78.8% 0.6 77.1% -1.7 75.1% -2.0 74.5% -0.6
30-39 78.2% -0.3 75.9% -2.2 73.0% -3.0 71.9% -1.1
40-49 82.6% 0.1 80.3% -2.3 76.9% -3.4 75.0% -1.9
50 and Over 82.6% 0.3 80.5% -2.1 77.1% -3.4 75.6% -1.5
Institutional Sector
4-Year Public 84.0% -0.1 83.5% -0.5 83.0% -0.5 82.4% -0.6
4-Year Private Nonprofit 85.6% -0.2 85.1% -0.5 84.4% -0.7 84.7% 0.3
4-Year Private For-Profit 94.5% -0.1 93.3% -1.2 91.1% -2.2 89.0% -2.1
2-Year Public 82.7% 0.5 81.3% -1.4 80.6% -0.7 80.1% -0.5

 

Table 5 shows the percentage of associate degree recipients in each year and category who were first-time graduates. First-time graduates are defined as students who earned a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or certificate as their first postsecondary credential. Each student is counted as a first-time graduate only once, in the academic year of his or her first postsecondary credential. Academic years run from July 1 to June 30.

Table 6: Count of First-Time Graduates Earning Certificates by Gender, Age, and Sector

 

2011-12 Change from Prior Year 2012-13 Change from Prior Year 2013-14 Change from Prior Year 2014-15 Change from Prior Year
Overall
First-Time Graduates Earning Certificates  411,239 -8.8%  404,668 -1.6%  402,359 -0.6%  388,345 -3.5%
Gender
Female  245,144 -9.4%  234,221 -4.5%  224,930 -4.0%  225,142 0.1%
Male  166,095 -7.8%  170,448 2.6%  177,430 4.1%  163,203 -8.0%
Age Group
Under 25  181,076 -7.2%  185,666 2.5%  187,475 1.0%  188,311 0.4%
25-29  68,283 -8.9%  66,301 -2.9%  65,991 -0.5%  64,293 -2.6%
30-39  76,424 -11.2%  73,457 -3.9%  70,906 -3.5%  66,633 -6.0%
40-49  51,267 -10.6%  47,737 -6.9%  45,223 -5.3%  40,468 -10.5%
50 and Over  32,766 -8.9%  30,530 -6.8%  31,883 4.4%  27,841 -12.7%
Institutional Sector
4-Year Public  16,497 12.8%  17,470 5.9%  18,536 6.1%  18,743 1.1%
4-Year Private Nonprofit  3,151 -11.2%  2,892 -8.2%  3,642 25.9%  2,755 -24.4%
4-Year Private For-Profit  20,612 -12.4%  22,010 6.8%  21,155 -3.9%  19,947 -5.7%
2-Year Public  248,138 -5.0%  253,013 2.0%  263,034 4.0%  255,455 -2.9%

 

Table 6 shows the count of certificate recipients in each year and category who were first-time graduates. First-time graduates are defined as students who earned a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or certificate as their first postsecondary credential. Each student is counted as a first-time graduate only once, in the academic year of his or her first postsecondary credential. Academic years run from July 1 to June 30. In this report, certificate refers to undergraduate and graduate-level certificates, since it was not possible for institutions to make this distinction in Clearinghouse data submissions prior to 2013-14. Certificate earners with no prior awards are classified as first-time graduates.

Table 7: First-Time Graduates Earning Certificates as Percentage of All Certificate Earners by Gender, Age, and Sector

 

2011-12 Change from Prior Year 2012-13 Change from Prior Year 2013-14 Change from Prior Year 2014-15 Change from Prior Year
Overall
First-Time Graduates Earning Certificates as Percentage of All Certificate Earners 77.7% -2.0 76.1% -1.6 74.4% -1.7 73.5% -0.9
Gender
Female 79.0% -2.3 76.7% -2.3 74.6% -2.0 74.5% -0.1
Male 76.0% -1.6 75.3% -0.7 74.1% -1.3 72.1% -1.9
Age Group
Under 25 86.5% -1.3 86.6% 0.1 85.7% -0.8 85.6% -0.1
25-29 69.1% -2.7 66.6% -2.5 65.6% -1.0 65.1% -0.5
30-39 69.4% -3.0 66.2% -3.2 63.5% -2.7 61.8% -1.6
40-49 76.5% -2.1 73.6% -2.9 69.6% -4.0 66.9% -2.7
50 and Over 78.0% -2.1 75.1% -3.0 72.8% -2.2 69.5% -3.3
Institutional Sector
4-Year Public 47.8% -0.7 46.0% -1.8 44.8% -1.1 43.8% -1.0
4-Year Private Nonprofit 34.1% -3.9 32.8% -1.3 32.0% -0.8 27.7% -4.2
4-Year Private For-Profit 78.8% -3.8 78.5% -0.3 76.1% -2.4 69.2% -6.9
2-Year Public 76.1% -0.9 75.3% -0.8 74.3% -1.0 73.6% -0.7

 

Table 7 shows the percentage of certificate recipients in each year and category who were first-time graduates. First-time graduates are defined as students who earned a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or certificate as their first postsecondary credential. Each student is counted as a first-time graduate only once, in the academic year of his or her first postsecondary credential. Academic years run from July 1 to June 30. In this report, certificate refers to undergraduate and graduate-level certificates, since it was not possible for institutions to make this distinction in Clearinghouse data submissions prior to 2013-14. Certificate earners with no prior awards are classified as first-time graduates.

Notes on the Data

Definition of First-Time Graduate

The Undergraduate Degree Earners Report, published annually by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, provides counts of first-time graduates and graduates with prior awards by institutional sector, award level, age group, and gender. Award recipients are considered to be first-time graduates if the award received in the report year is their first postsecondary award from a U.S. Title IV, degree-granting institution. Each student is counted as a first-time graduate only once, in the academic year of his or her first postsecondary credential. Academic years run from July 1 to June 30. A student who earned two credentials in the year of his or her first credential is counted under the highest credential level earned in that year. For example, if a student whose first award was a certificate received in December 2014 subsequently received an associate’s degree in May 2015, he or she would be counted in this report as a first-time graduate at the associate’s degree level in academic year 2014-15.

In this report, certificate refers to undergraduate and graduate-level certificates, since it was not possible for institutions to make this distinction in Clearinghouse data submissions prior to 2013-14. Certificate earners with no prior awards are classified as first-time graduates.

Degree Coverage and Weighting

The National Student Clearinghouse collects graduation information from its participating institutions via two data reporting services: Enrollment Reporting (ER) and DegreeVerify (DV). Enrollment Reporting has higher data coverage rates, but includes only basic completion information, such as graduation indicator and the date of graduation. DV includes enhanced information on completions, including degree title, major, level, and CIP code, but covered only 91 percent of credentials granted by U.S. Title IV degree-granting institutions as of fall 2015. The overall set of undergraduate degree earners for a particular year is based only on awards reported to DV, but prior award status was assigned using records from both ER and DV. In cases where the prior award did not appear in a DV record (approximately 2.3% of the 2015 bachelors’ degree earners, 2.4% of associate degree earners and 2.2% of certificate earners), the level of the prior award was imputed based on the institution level and related enrollment records. To adjust for the DV participation rate, weights were applied to each degree record included in this report. Weights were derived by calculating the inverse of the rate of degree data coverage for each combination of year, institution sector, award level (bachelor’s, associate’s, or certificate), and student gender. To obtain degree data coverage for each combination of year, sector, and award level, Clearinghouse degree data were compared to IPEDS Completions data for all U.S. Title IV, degree-granting institutions.

Imputation of Gender

Institutions reported student gender to the Clearinghouse for slightly less than half of all students included in this report. The genders of the remaining students were imputed using a table of name-gender pairs that the Research Center developed using data publicly available from the Census Bureau and the Social Security Administration as well as the institution-reported data. The imputation used only those pairs in which the name had at least two instances and was associated with a single gender in at least 95 percent of the instances. The imputation is accurate in 99.6 percent of the cases with known gender. A detailed document on the development of our approach resides on the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s “Working with Our Data” Web page.

Degree-Granting Status

When referencing IPEDS counts of postsecondary awards, it is important to distinguish degree-granting institutions from non-degree-granting institutions. Clearinghouse certificate and degree data, as well as the IPEDS comparison data used for the weighting calculation in this report, are limited to degrees and certificates awarded by U.S. Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions.

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