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Degree Completions

by Tod Massa 21. October 2016 22:08





This is the text of my presentation for Monday to Council about degree completions in 2015-16.


The information below details degree completions in 2015-16, with particular focus on in-state undergraduates at public and private nonprofit institutions. Presented are summaries of degree- and certificate-award totals in the public and private sectors, comparisons of 2015-16 in-state undergraduate degree awards to past years and to current estimates, and analyses of progress toward the degree goals of the Top Jobs Act (TJ21), which is a step toward achievement of the 1.5 million award target of The Virginia Plan for Higher Education. Data on individual institutions are shown in an appendix. These data, as well as those on completions of non-degree credentials, are accessible on the Research section of the SCHEV website (http://research.schev.edu/apps/info/Reports.Guide-to-the-Degrees-Awarded-Reports.ashx).


In 2015-16, Virginia public and private nonprofit institutions awarded a total of 119,234 degrees and certificates, compared to 115,577 in the previous year, representing a 2.3% increase. 


TJ21 set a goal for public institutions of awarding an additional 100,000 undergraduate degrees to in-state students between 2010-11 and 2024-25. Through the 2015-16 academic year, public two- and four-year institutions awarded an additional 17,983 qualifying associate and baccalaureate degrees.  Awards last year were 6,901 above TJ21’s baseline (42,825 in 2010-11).

In 2015-16, in-state students completed 49,726 undergraduate degrees (associate and bachelor) at public institutions.  This total is 1,713 (3.6%) above the prior year’s tally; the total represents the continuing rebound from 2013-14’s decline, which had been the first drop in in-state undergraduate degree completions at public institutions since 1997-98.  This total also represents a new all-time high in degree awards to in-state undergraduates.

In Spring 2015, public institutions had estimated a cumulative 47,026 degree awards to in-state undergraduate students in 2015-16; this number would have been a decrease of 357 (0.8%) from the total of 2013-14.  However, the actual number of awards in 2015-16 is above the estimate for the year by 2,626 (5.6%).  

Associate-Degree Completions by In-State Undergraduate Students at Public Institutions 

In 2015-16, in-state students completed 18,585 associate degrees at public institutions – 18,526 at two-year institutions and 59 at four-year institutions.  The total is 667 (3.7%) greater than the prior year’s tally.

The 667-award increase in associate degrees between 2014-15 and 2015-16 at the public two-year colleges is due to higher completions at eight community colleges with increases of 50 or degree awards over 2014-15: 

Bachelor-Degree Completions by In-State Undergraduate Students at Public Institutions

In 2015-16, in-state students completed 31,141 baccalaureate degrees at public institutions, a new all-time high.  This total is 1,064 (3.5%) above 2014-15’s tally, which had also been the all-time high.

The 1,064-award increase in bachelor degrees between 2014-15 and 2015-16 was attributable to small or moderate increases in completions at 14 of the 15 public four-year institutions, with the largest year-to-year growth at 

The one four-year public with a decline was Virginia Military Institute (-19; -8.5%).

Toward 100,000 Additional In-State Undergraduate-Degree Awards by 2025 

The 47,995 degree completions by in-state undergraduate awards at public institutions in 2015-16 are 5,170 more than in 2010-11, the baseline year for the Top Jobs Act goal of 100,000 additional in-state undergraduate awards by 2025.  In the four academic years since TJ21 was enacted, public institutions have awarded a total of 17,983 additional in-state undergraduate degrees toward the goal. These awards are important components of The Virginia Plan for Higher Education’s target of 1.5 million degrees and workforce credentials between 2014 and 2030. 

Over the past 12 years, annual degree-award growth rates in the range of 3.1% to 5.2% have been common. The 6,901-award rise since 2010-11 represents an overall increase of 16%, which averages to 3.2% per year. If the average rate of growth achieved since enactment of TJ21 continues, then the goal of 100,000 additional public-sector degree awards by 2025 is readily attainable.


If, however, growth is slower or even negative, as it was in 2013-14, then the Commonwealth would need to put in place strategies to increase completion. In 2011-12 (the first year for TJ21 tracking), degree completions by in-state undergraduates at public institutions exceeded 2010-11 by 8.4%, which was the highest rate of growth in recent history. But from 2011-12 to 2012-13, comparable completions grew by only 2.4%, which was the lowest rate of growth in almost a decade. And, as detailed in Table 5, the rate of growth from 2012-13 to 2013-14 turned negative (-0.3%).  However, growth from 2014-15 to 2015-16 rebounded to 3.6%.

Over the past five years, rates of degree-completion growth by in-state undergraduates at public institutions had been slowing for both associate and bachelor awards with most recent year indicating a strong rebound.  

Public institutions’ cumulative degree estimates for in-state undergraduate awards through 2021-22 produced in Spring 2015 project annual increases at rates in the range of 0.2% to 1.4%, which would be considerably below the growth rates achieved between 2001-02 and 2011-12 but within the range (1.1% to 1.2%) needed to reach the TJ21 goal, which would maintain progress toward The Virginia Plan goal of 1.5 million awards by 2030. If there were to be no further growth in degree completions (and no decreases), cumulative increase in awards would top out just below 87,000. However, an annual increase of just one percentage point each year would take the state to nearly 110,000.

Undergraduate-Degree Completions by In-State Undergraduate Students at Private Nonprofit Institutions

In 2015-16, in-state students completed 7,179 undergraduate degrees (304 associate and 6,875 bachelor) at private nonprofit institutions.  This total represents a new high in undergraduate-degree awards and is 213 (3.2%) above the prior year’s tally, which had been the most ever.

The 68-award (1%) increase in private nonprofit institutions’ in-state undergraduate degree awards between 2014-15 and 2015-16 is due mainly to substantial increases at four institutions, which more than offset decreases at two.  The largest year-to-year growth is shown on the following table:

 The largest declines were at Hampton (-36; -16.8%) and Averett University’s non-traditional programs (-34; -16%).  

Toward a “Comparable Increase” in In-State Undergraduate Degree Awards by Private Nonprofit Institutions

The 7,179 degree completions by in-state undergraduates at private nonprofit institutions in 2015-16 are 1,149 more than in 2010-11, the baseline year for TJ21’s goal for these institutions to produce an increase in awards by 2025 that is “comparable” to the TJ21’s target for public institutions.  This increase occurred despite the closure of two institutions – Saint Paul’s and Virginia Intermont – during the period. 

SCHEV staff has estimated that a comparable increase in private nonprofits’ undergraduate awards to in-state students would be at least an additional 15,000 awards by 2025.  In the five academic years since TJ21 was enacted, private nonprofit institutions have awarded 4,321 additional undergraduate degrees, which represent an average annual rate of growth of 3.8%.  Such a growth rate is more than adequate to achieve TJ21’s “comparable increase” of 15,000 awards.  Indeed, if there is no growth in degree awards after this year, and no decrease in the total, the total cumulative increase by 2024-25 will be 14,662.

However, this average rate of growth is heavily influenced by the significant increase between 2010-11 and 2011-12, which was 9.4%. In the three years following, the rates declined to 3.3%, 1.3%, and finally between 2013-14 and 2014-15, a 1% annual increase, before this most recent increase of 3.2%.

Becoming the Best-Educated State in the Nation by 2030

To achieve the Commonwealth’s goal of becoming the best-educated state in the nation by 2030, SCHEV has estimated that Virginia colleges and universities need to award 1.5 million undergraduate degrees, certificates and workforce credentials between 2014-15 and 2029-30. At this point, 176,104 undergraduate degrees and certificates have been awarded to all students, by all institutions, public and nonprofit private. Current estimates are that a sustained overall growth of one percent per year will result in 1,534,000 awards. While this is good news and is likely achievable, we know that it may not be enough as other states are making the same attempt. Further, any number of factors, such as net in-state migration and a slowing in the growth in the number of high-school graduates, could create challenges to meeting this goal.

Although The Virginia Plan does not include degrees from for-profit institutions in the 1.5 million target, Virginia residents with degrees from this sector do contribute to the overall level of educational attainment in the state. Based on national data, these institutions awarded approximately 6,000 associate degrees and 4,500 bachelor degrees in 2015-16.

Finally, the recently introduced New Economy Workforce Credential Program will add yet more credentials of value to the count. A mere three months into its existence, nearly 1,400 Virginians have enrolled in programs at Virginia’s Community Colleges and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. These noncredit credential programs are specifically targeted to existing workforce needs thus have specific value to the Commonwealth’s goals.



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