The number of students graduating from college began rising again in the 2020–21 academic year after a temporary pause in growth during the previous academic year, according to a new report released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Wednesday.
The 2020–21 Undergraduate Degree Earners Report noted that the number of undergraduate credential earners increased by 1.1 percent that academic year, totaling 3.7 million graduates. The report concludes that much of the growth can be attributed to students earning stacked credentials, including 22,000 students who completed their bachelor’s degrees after transferring from community colleges. However, the growth was uneven across credential types.
The number of first-time graduates stabilized during the 2020–21 academic year after a 0.9 percent decline in first-time graduates the year prior, a loss of more than 25,000 students. The number of associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees earned also increased, by 0.3 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively. However, the number of certificates earned continued trending downward, dropping 2.6 percent.
The number of students under the age of 25 completing first-time associate degrees and certificates also continued to fall, while the number of older first-time graduates increased by 1.4 percent. First-time graduates in their 30s notably increased by 4.3 percent.
“The growth in overall undergraduate credential completers this year is two-sided news,” Mikyung Ryu, director of research publications for the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said in a press release. “The overall growth was led by stacked credential earners, but first-time graduates as a whole had no growth. This implies a growing dichotomy of the haves and have-nots in postsecondary attainment.”