A Statistical Portrait of American Postsecondary Students

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Students attending for-profit colleges are more likely to be poor, poorly prepared for college, most dependent on financial aid, most likely to be seeking a credential rather than a degree, twice as likely to be full-time students as part-time students, but most likely to earn high grades in college. Those are among the thousands of characteristics chronicled in a massive new study of students who first entered college during the 2003-04 school year published today by the Education Department’s National Center for Educational Statistics.

Although the percentage of female students is greater than the percentage of male students at every type of school – public, private nonprofit, for-profit, offering certificates or various degrees – women made up two-thirds of the enrollment at for-profit schools.

The report, Six Year Attainment, Persistence, Transfer, Retention and Withdrawal Rates of Students Who Began Postsecondary Education in 2003-04, presents a complete picture of college students in the first decade of the new century.

The information is presented in table after table, without much commentary, except to point out when the numbers are too small to be statistically significant. The tables even have their own tables, showing the likely margin of error for each major table.

In the 2003-04 school year, most of the students seeking credentials in programs that took less than two years went to for-profit schools (53.9 percent).

Six years later, a little more than half of the people who had sought a credential had attained one (52.9 percent), but only 17.9 percent of those who had sought at associate’s degree at a two-year school had completed that degree. In contrast, 63.2 percent of students who had sought a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college had completed their degrees. Overall, 50.5 percent of the students who began their postsecondary education in 2003-04 had no degree or credential six years later.

The 381-page report has an almost dizzying array of statistics that sometimes seems redundant, but actually represents a finer slice of the students’ demographics.