College Completion FAQs

Commonly asked questions about college completion at open- and broad-access institutions

Each year, hundreds of thousands of students across the United States enroll in college with high hopes and aspirations, but many of these students will leave before ever earning a degree. We explore what we know about students who attend college, when and why some students leave, and some promising interventions to improve college completion.

College students and institutions: Who’s attending college and where?

More than 26.5 million students were enrolled in colleges and universities across the United States in the 2016–17 academic year. We break down the types of postsecondary institutions these students attended and the important function that open- and broad-access institutions serve in providing a pathway to career success.

How does student enrollment vary across types of institutions of higher education?

The majority of undergraduate college students in the United States attend public universities, such as 2‑year community colleges and 4‑year state colleges and universities. In 2016, these types of public institutions accounted for more than 65% of undergraduate enrollment.

Enrollment by Institution Type

Data Source: National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey, Undergraduate 2016

What are open- and broad-access institutions, and who do they serve?

Open- and broad-access institutions include 2-year community colleges and 4-year colleges and universities that accept 75% or more of their applicants. These types of institutions tend to have open or minimally selective admissions policies, and thus provide a pathway to a college degree for a large population of students, including a majority of first-generation college students.

Because open- and broad-access institutions serve such a broad range of students, the research teams in the CCN are all focused on identifying and evaluating promising strategies that these institutions can use to improve college completion rates.

Note: Open- and broad-access institutions include those that grant sub-Baccalaureate degrees and certificates as well as institutions that grant Baccalaureate degrees and have open or minimally selective admission policies according to Barron’s Selectivity Index and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

What are the characteristics of the students who attend open- and broad-access institutions?

The graphs below indicate the race and ethnicity, dependency status, income level, and age of undergraduate students enrolled at open- and broad-access institutions in the United States in 2016. Of undergraduates that year, more than half were students of color. In addition, the majority of undergraduates classified themselves as "independent" on their taxes and had an income of less than $50,000. The high percentage of independent students at open- and broad-access institutions is consistent with the data in the third graph, which shows that over half of undergraduates enrolled in 2016 were more than 24 years of age.

Note: Open- and broad-access institutions include those that grant sub-Baccalaureate degrees and certificates as well as institutions that grant Baccalaureate degrees and have open or minimally selective admission policies according to Barron’s Selectivity Index and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Undergraduate Students Enrolled at
Open- and Broad-Access Institutions in the United States, 2016

Race and Ethnicity of Enrolled Students

Data Source: National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey, Undergraduate 2016

Financial Dependency Status of Enrolled Students

Data Source: National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey, Undergraduate 2016

Age of Enrolled Students

Data Source: National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey, Undergraduate 2016