Comparing NSC and NCAN Completion Rates by Race/Ethnicity

April 28, 2017

By Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSC) released a report this week that is valuable for NCAN members, especially those engaged in our Benchmarking Project, because it breaks out completion rates by race and ethnicity. The publication is a supplement to the NSC's December report on the postsecondary attainment rate of students in the fall 2010 cohort. Unlike the national and state-level reports for the fall 2010 cohort, which rely on the entirety of the NSC's immense data collection from colleges and universities across the country, this supplement instead employs a nationally representative sample of students from 647 institutions.

NCAN recently received data from Round 4 of the Benchmarking Project. Round 4 included data from over 170,000 students from 65 member programs. Although typically NCAN releases data from the Benchmarking Project in a more formal report, the NSC's release of relevant race and ethnicity benchmarks offers us the opportunity to compare the outcomes of NCAN member-served students to national outcomes.

The NSC report contains important data on six-year completion outcomes broken down by race/ethnicity and gender, age at first enrollment, enrollment intensity, and first institution attended (four-year public, two-year public, private). Members will surely want to bookmark it.

Figures 1 and 2 describe and compare the demographics of NSC's fall 2010 cohort and NCAN's class of 2010 cohort. Note that all of the NCAN figures contained in this post are restricted to students who had a postsecondary enrollment in the first year following high school graduation in 2010. This restriction is necessary to provide an apples-to-apples comparison among the benchmarks.

(Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center)

Compared to the NSC sample, the NCAN Benchmarking sample is composed of far more students of color. White students make up nearly four times more of the NSC sample than the NCAN sample, which in turn has more than double the proportion of Black students and more than triple the proportion of Hispanic students. Because the Benchmarking Project asks participants to report students' race and ethnicity separately from their Hispanic status, we created a new variable that identified a student as Hispanic of they were affirmatively identified as such and were reported as an unknown race or ethnicity by a member program.

Figure 3 compares the NSC and NCAN samples by students' race/ethnicity and gender. The NCAN sample over-represents female students compared to the NSC sample, which is nationally representative. The figure is restricted to the race/ethnicity disaggregates shown because that is what the NSC report contains. The over-representation of female students in the NCAN Benchmarking Project sample has been a trend since Round 2 of the project, when we first collected student-level characteristics.

Figure 4 is the main event and displays students' six-year outcomes by race/ethnicity. "Still enrolled" and "completed" are derived from students' statuses in year six, while certificate, associate's, and bachelor's completions during any time in the window are counted as "completed." NCAN's overall completion rate benchmark trails the NSC's by 6.6 percentage points. However, NCAN students were far more likely to be "still enrolled" in year six, which speaks to both student persistence and longer time to completion for NCAN member-served students. Looking at attainment by race and ethnicity, NCAN member-served Black and Hispanic students both exceed the NSC's national six-year completion rates, while member-served White and Asian students trail their peers in terms of completion. Across the board, member-served students were more or as likely to still be enrolled at the end of the six-year window.

Overall, these findings are encouraging news for NCAN members. Comparing the low-income, first-generation students served by NCAN members against nationally representative groups of students by race and ethnicity shows that NCAN members are making good progress in closing the completion gaps that have run rampant for so long in our country. The NCAN sample sizes are quite low, which speaks to a need to re-examine these comparisons with future years of data and also to expand college access and success services to more students in general.

Stay tuned to NCAN's blog and Success Digest member newsletter as we release more data from Round 4 of the Benchmarking Project! Thank you to the members who make this project possible and to the NSCRC for their partnership and effort in getting these data into the field.

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