More students stacking degrees—fewer students attending first-time

Rate jumped from 25% in 2011 to 29% in 2014

The number of students stacking credentials grew as the number earning their first degrees fell, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Seventy-one percent of college students who graduated in 2014 were first-time undergraduates—a drop from 75% in 2011. Meanwhile, the share of students earning additional undergraduate degrees grew from 25% to 29%.

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"As student educational pathways become longer and more complex, it is [insufficient] to simply count the number of degrees awarded," says Doug Shapiro, the center's executive research director. "Knowing how many actual new college graduates we are producing is critical to national efforts to increase the number of adults with a postsecondary credential."

The trends varied by age group—there was actually a 4.4% increase in people under the age of 25 earning their first degree.

"We know the number of high school grads peaked around 2012, so it's likely that the number of new college graduates under 25 will begin to decline," Jason DeWitt, research manager with Clearinghouse, told Inside Higher Ed.

And the drop in the over-25 group is likely due to an improving economy, he says. "In the worst years of the recession, many working adults returned to college or enrolled for the first time" (Smith, Inside Higher Ed, 9/30).

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