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Time and Credits to Degree

by Tod Massa 6. October 2017 21:23

We'll be making a tweak to the Completions Scorecard. There have internal discussions lately about time-to-degree and attempted-credits-to-degree, especially in light of the recent Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report on the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). These discussions have centered around the distributions of students and their attempted credits towards earning a degree. (Note - we calculate attempted credits because we do not have valid grades on all courses, nor do we know the degree audit rules for each program at each institution. This is also the standard for reporting to the Southern Region Education Board (SREB) Data Exchange.) Honestly, this is one of those times I thought I was going to have a do a lot of extra work, but it turns out, I had already done it,  just not in the way the discussions were trending. We just never published the data.

What will we be adding? The average credits attempted by number of years to earn the degree. This is a measure that really gets to the point. If bachelor's degree normally requires 120 credits and is expected to take four years, then the average credits attempted for graduates within four years of starting, assuming essentially full-time enrollment, should be around 120 credits. For graduates between four and five years, something a bit less than 150 credits, assuming a significant number of students completing in four-and-a-half semesters. Graduates in shorter periods of time should have lower average credits and those in longer periods of time would have larger averages.


Graduates of 2016-17

For example, the average attempted credits for students graduating with a bachelor's degree from a public institution who started at that institution as full-time, first-time in college is 128 credits.

  • Students completing within three years: 95 credits (I assume these students have prior pre-college credit that was not reported to us.)
  • Students completing in the fourth year, 123 credits.
  • Students completing in the fifth year, 139 credits.
  • Students completing in the sixth year, 152 credits.

For students known to have presented prior academic credit such as dual enrollment, Advanced Placement tests, or International Baccalaureate credits the averages are a bit higher. This is a subject of great debate and interest as to why and is being studied.

  • Students completing within three years: 104 credits.
  • Students completing in the fourth year, 135 credits.
  • Students completing in the fifth year, 162 credits.
  • Students completing in the sixth year, 157 credits.

Using the same standard, the average is 128 credits for students at private, nonprofit institutions.

  • Students completing within three years: 89credits (I assume these students have prior pre-college credit that was not reported to us.)
  • Students completing in the fourth year, 121 credits.
  • Students completing in the fifth year, 139 credits.
  • Students completing in the sixth year, 135 credits.
Students with prior academic credits:
  • Students completing within three years: 77 credits.
  • Students completing in the fourth year, 136 credits.
  • Students completing in the fifth year, 144 credits.
  • Students completing in the sixth year, 143 credits.
(It's worth noting that not all private colleges require 120 credits to graduate, at least two have requirements of 107 and 112.)

I'll be saving the two-year institutions for a later blogpost. There are anomalies we need to trace out and validate.

But, speaking of two-year institutions, let's look at transfer students. These counts aren't limited to transfers from the VCCS and Richard Bland College, but those make up the bulk transfers.

For students transferring into four-year public colleges and with an initial full-time enrollment:
  • Students completing within two years: 60 credits.
  • Students completing within three years: 79credits.
  • Students completing in the fourth year, 99 credits.
  • Students completing in the fifth year, 114 credits.
  • Students completing in the sixth year, 122 credits.

For students transferring into four-year private, nonprofit colleges and with an initial full-time enrollment:
  • Students completing within two years: 52 credits.
  • Students completing within three years: 75 credits.
  • Students completing in the fourth year, 98 credits.
  • Students completing in the fifth year, 103 credits.
  • Students completing in the sixth year, 104 credits.

Overall, most of the averages look pretty good to me. There seem to be some definite excesses for students with prior academic credit and there are variety of possible explanations. The fact that we see similar patterns at both public and private institutions is interesting. Also of interest  is the fact that average attempted credits for transfer students, based solely on time-to-degree at the four-year institution, looks just about like it should. Especially since students transfer in anywhere from one to 90 credits (or more).

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