Local college students fare better at earning enough credits for degrees, going against national data

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

National statistics show college students are not on track to complete their university education in five years because they are not attempting or earning enough credits each year to get a bachelor’s degree.

“This is the first ever report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that uses actual credit information and focuses on early momentum metrics such as first-year credit accumulation rate and credit completion ratio,” said Afet Dundar, Director, Equity in Research and Analytics at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and one of the authors of the report.

“College and university administrators and practitioners can use these metrics to design effective and timely support for those students who need it the most, while students are still enrolled. Otherwise, students will continue to fall behind academically and financially by not completing college as soon as possible.”

The report focuses on two primary metrics: students’ first year credit completion ratio (CCR) and credit accumulation rate (CAR). The CCR is the ratio of credits earned to credits attempted, and the CAR measures students’ timely accumulation of credits by identifying what share of students surpass specific credit-hours thresholds within a given period.

Wittenberg University had 344 first-time students and 34 transfer students enrolled in 2020-21 and 384 first-time students and 38 transfer-in students in 2019-20.

Although this report shows that the average first-time, full-time student does not attempt enough credits to complete a bachelor’s degree in four or five years, Wittenberg students do attempt enough credit hours to earn a bachelor’s degree in those years, according to the university’s graduation rates.

The graduation rates show that a majority of students do earn their degree within four to five years. In 2017, the four-year graduation rate was 47%, while in 2016 that rate was 51%. For the five-year graduation rate, it was 57% in 2016 and 64% in 2015. For years 2012-14, those rates were in the same ranges of 56% to 62%.

“For students to earn a degree at Wittenberg University, they must completed 126 credits with a cumulative average GPA of 2.0 and an average GPA of 2.0 in their major. That means that for a first-time, full-time student to be able to graduate in four years, they need to complete an average of about 16 credits a term and 32 credits a year,” said Darby Hiller, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs & Institutional Research.

The Clearinghouse data showed only 51% of full-time students earned 24 or more credit hours in their first year and 28% earned 30 or more credit hours. After their first year, the average full-time student attempted fewer than 27 credit hours and earned fewer than 22.

The number of credits attempted among first-year, degree-seeking students in 2019-20 was 20.9 hours, and the number of credits earned was 16.9. First-time in-college students attempted 21.7 credits and earned 17.3 credits, slightly more than first-time, transfer-in students at 19.3 and 16.1, respectively.

At Wittenberg, 79% of first-time, first-year students earned 24 or more credit hours in 2020-21 and 71% earned 30 or more. In 2019-20, 84% earned 24 or more and 76% earned 30 or more.

For transfer-in students, 99% earned 24 or more credits in both 2020-21 and 2019-20, and 98% earned 30 or more in both years as well. The average completed credits for those students was 14 in 2020-21 and 15 in 2019-20.

Data showed that students earn roughly 75% of the credits they attempt, with students earning nine credit hours for every 12 credits they attempt.

The CCR among first-year, degree-seeking students in 2019-20 was 76%, which means on average, students earned a little over three-quarters of all credits attempted in their first year toward their degree.

The CCR among first-time, transfer-in students was 79% and higher than the CCR for first-time in-college students at 74%.

At Wittenberg, the credit completion rate was higher than the Clearinghouse report. The CCR for students was 87% in 2020-21 and 93% in 2019-20.

In 2020-21, students attempted an average of 16 credits and earned an average of 14 credits. In 2019-20, students attempted 17 credits and earned 16 credits.

The average cumulative credits in the first year was 35 in 2020-21 and 34 in 2019-20.

Many factors play a role

This attempted-versus-earned rate varies widely by race and ethnicity, enrollment intensity, college readiness, the degree sought and institutional type.

For example, according to the Clearinghouse data, Black males earn the equivalent of one three-credit hour course less than their White and Asian peers during their first year.

Across racial and ethnic groups, the overall CCR ranged from 66% to 84% for first-year, degree-seeking students. The highest CCRs were among nonresident at 84%, Asian at 83%, and White at 79%, while Black and African American was at 66%, American Indian and Alaska Native at 67% and Hispanic at 73% had the lowest CCRs.

Students of diverse races and ethnicities at Wittenberg had a CCR of 77% in 2020-21 with average cumulative credits of 29, and 88% in 2019-20 with cumulative credits of 32.

There are similar patterns when considering CCRs of first-time in-college and first-time transfer-in students, though transfer-in students had, on average, higher CCRs than their in-college peers of the same race in all but one racial group, Clearinghouse data showed. The CCR also varied less among transfer-in students.

The largest gaps between students attempting and earning credits are across gender, race and ethnicity, and enrollment intensity. For example, the percent of Asian women students who earned 30 or more credits in their first year was more than double of their Black and African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific islander peers.

At Wittenberg, 64% of students of diverse races and ethnicities earned 24 or more credits and 57% earned 30 or more credits in 2020-21, and 78% earned 24 or more and 63% earned 30 more more in 2019-20.

The Clearinghouse data showed when it comes to transfer students, both transfer and non-transfer students attempted and earned credits at relatively similar rates, with transfer-in students earning consistently higher CCRs.

When it comes to gender, women had higher average first-year CCRs than men at 78% compared to 73%, with it overall being higher among both first-time in-college and transfer-in students.

Women students at Wittenberg had higher CCRs than men in both 2020-21 and 2019-20, at 89% compared to 85%, and 94% compared to 93%, respectively. When it comes to the average cumulative credits, women also had higher rates than men at 38 in 2020-21 and 36 in 2019-20, compared to men at 32 in 2020-21 and 31 in 2019-20.

Women at the university also earned more credits than men. In 2020-21, 83% of women and 75% of men earned 24 or more credits, and 76% of women and 66% of men earned 30 or more. In 2019-20, 88% of women and 81% of men earned 24 or more and 82% of women and 71% of men earned 30 or more.

Institutional types matter for credit completion

Credit completion rates also vary across institutional types, according to the Clearinghouse data. In 2019-20, first-year students at four-year institutions had a higher average CCR than students at two-year institutions. The average CCR was 85% for students at private, four-year institutions and 80% for students at public, four-year institutions. That rate for public, two-year institutions was 70%.

Students at private, four-year institutions had a higher CAR than those at public, four-year and public, two-year institutions. Roughly 55% of students at private, four-year earned 24 or more credits compared to 43% of students at public, four-year institutions and 21% of students at public, two-year institutions.

The majority of students at two-year institutions are part-time, including roughly 75% at Clark State College.

President Jo Alice Blondin said community college students don’t always fit into the enrollment patterns presented by the National Clearinghouse or this study, as the intended goal for each student is different.

“The concept of ‘student intent’ is a very important factor in enrollment, meaning, ‘what does the student intend to accomplish when he or she registers?’. Many students enroll to take prerequisites in preparation for attending a university, or a student may already have a degree and wishes to attend Clark State to upskill in their field,” she said.

Support for student life helps

Although the Clearinghouse study doesn’t fully pertain to two-year schools, Clark State started last fall with mandatory advising for all new undergraduate students and students that took a break to help them get on the right path and reduce the time to complete a degree, said Travis Binkley, dean of enrollment services. The academic programs are developed to maximize credit hour potential for each semester, and advisors encourage students to take the maximum number of credit hours they can so they can earn their degree sooner.

“Students can’t obtain full-time often times without the holistic supports the college offers to alleviate some of the other pressures that occur in the student’s life,” he said.

An additional barrier to college graduation is financial needs, Blondin said, which they try to alleviate through scholarships and grants, such as the nearly 65% of students who receive a Pell grant. Other student supports include being connected to resources to help them be successful academically, personally and professionally.

“We have multiple ways in which we reach out to our students to identify and assess any potential or real barriers and then set a plan to address the barriers while providing support, (which) looks different for every student,” said Dawayne Kirkman, vice president of student affairs.

But being a college student is more than academics, it also includes supports related to their well-being. Clark State’s counseling services staff has grown by 200%, Kirkman said, and 85% of students that have used those services last spring either enrolled for the next semester or completed their degrees.

One main focus for institutions is on maximizing students’ course completion rates and the likelihood a student will surpass credit-hour thresholds in their first year. The Clearinghouse states that one possible step is to increase the number of credits attempted by students, as well as increase the share of courses students complete and earn credit for. Since the average full-time student didn’t attempt enough credits to earn a bachelor’s degree in four or five years, “these sharply limit students’ ability to surpass the (credit) hour threshold and make timely progress toward a degree.”

At Wittenberg, they are committed to working with every student in both their personal and professional journey to help the succeed.

“Academic advisors are essential in this effort and meet regularly with students to map out a plan to ensure that they can complete the requisite credits and coursework needed to graduate within the traditional timeframe. Additional support services are also available through the University’s COMPASS: Sweet Success Center,” said Jon Duraj, assistant vice president for student success and retention.

Source: The National Student Clearinghouse; Wittenberg University; Clark State College.

About the Author