Factors that Affect Degree Completion

Enrolling in college and earning a degree can be two completely different things. While the act of simply enrolling in college classes is fairly simple, seeing them through to completion is a little more difficult. According to the 2007 College Board study, "Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society," over the past 30 years, the proportion of adults who have completed a four-year college degree has almost doubled. The study found that many factors are associated with degree completion.

According to the study, higher degree completion rates for students enrolled in four-year colleges and universities are associated with higher test scores, family incomes, and parent education levels. In 1995, among low-income college students whose parents did not go to college, 71 percent of those who scored over 1100 on the SAT completed a bachelor’s degree by 2001. Among students who scored between 950 and 1100 on their SATs, 63 percent completed a bachelor’s degree by 2001, and 55 percent of those with lower SAT scores. Despite the fact that their parents didn’t go to college, middle-income college students with the highest SAT scores were found to be more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than low-income students with a college-educated parent. Among the college students with SAT scores that fell within the highest quartile and had parents who did go to college, those coming from higher income families were more likely to complete their degree. Of the students whose families had incomes of $70,000 or higher, 86 percent completed a bachelor’s degree by 2001, compared to 83 percent from middle-income families and 75 percent from low income. It was also found that among college students with mid-range SAT scores, having a parent with a college education was associated with larger differences in degree completion, than among students with either a high or low SAT score.

According to the study, higher family incomes and parent education levels were also associated with degree completion rates among races. Among students whose parents did not go to college, degree completion rates differed between races, with 52 percent of African Americans completing a bachelor’s degree compared to 63 percent of whites. Of those students whose parents did go to college, 66 percent of African Americans completed a degree compared to 78 percent of whites. When it came to family income, Hispanic students experienced the largest difference in degree completion rates. Of the Hispanic students whose families earned incomes of at least $70,000, 74 percent completed a bachelor’s degree compared to 48 percent of those coming from lower-income families.