College Completion in Wisconsin

The National Student Clearinghouse is out with a new report on degree completion rates in higher education that offers a more nuanced portrait than the usual reports from individual institutions or systems provides. Among the findings for Wisconsin:

  1. Wisconsin undergraduates in public higher education outperform their national counterparts. For example, students attending University of Wisconsin System universities complete degrees within 6 years at much higher rates than the national average: 68% vs. 61%. Similarly, 49% of students at the UW Colleges and Wisconsin Technical Colleges complete degrees, compared to 38% nationally.
  2. However, in UW System universities there are some age disparities. For example, 71% of Wisconsin students at UW System universities under age 20 at college entry complete degrees compared to 65% nationally. However, just 44% of Wisconsin students over age 24 at college entry complete degrees compared to 43% nationally. Arizona, California, Illinois, Minnesota and others have far greater completion rates for older students, usually above 55%. Over at the 2-year colleges, there are no such age disparities — students in Wisconsin outperform their national counterparts irrespective of age. Indeed, 53% of Wisconsin students over age 24 complete degrees if they start at 2-year colleges, compared to 36.5% nationally.
  3. Wisconsin’s private nonprofit colleges and universities, however, do not outperform the national average. While completion rates are slightly higher at Wisconsin’s private nonprofits than Wisconsin’s public universities (70% vs. 68%), they serve different students — the national comparison is 71%. When it comes to students under 20, Wisconsin private nonprofits lag the national average (73 vs. 76%), and the same is true for students over 24 (46 vs. 50%).
  4. It is a real shame that completion rate for Wisconsin’s private for-profit colleges and universities is not shared in this report. Check out Brensten Education outside of Milwaukee. This local news story is heartbreaking, combining the potential problems of for-profit colleges and coding bootcamps. Equally striking are the proactive steps the Wisconsin Educational Accountability Board is taking to help students get relief and to give them clear and frank information about their options, including potential legal action. Remember, that’s the EAB that Governor Scott Walker tried to shut down last year!
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