UC Berkeley six-year graduation rate higher than national average, report reveals

Graduation 2012
Marcus Gedai/Staff

With high graduation rates and relatively few instances of student default, UC Berkeley is the exception to alarming national averages found in a recently published report.

According to the American Dreams 2.0 report published Jan. 24, 46 percent of students who enroll in an institution of higher education in the United States drop out before completing their degree in six years. The report blamed rising student debt, the complexity of financial aid programs and growing tuition, among other factors.

At UC Berkeley however, the six-year college completion rate is higher than the national average of 54 percent cited in the report. The latest data available — from the freshman class of 2005-06 — put the graduation rate at 90 percent.

“UC Berkeley’s six year graduation rates for fall-entrant freshmen (the federal reporting standard) have in recent years been very high, exceeded only by the University of Virginia,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email.

The different attendance patterns at UC Berkeley could be responsible for such a high graduation rate, according to Terrell Halaska, a partner at HCM Strategists — the public policy advocacy group that published the report.

“Students who attend research institutions like Berkeley live on campus and attend full time,” Halaska said. “Community college students are usually (long) out of high school, they’re adults and sometimes have children to support.”

The report identified high debt and a dysfunctional financial aid system as some of the most widespread problems affecting graduation rates. Students with high debt and who default on student loans are more likely to leave postsecondary education without a degree, the report said.

According to Gilmore, the campus’s three-year default rate is 2.6 percent — low when compared to the national average of 13.4 percent. UC Berkeley students also have the lowest overall debt at graduation of any of the member schools in the Association of American Universities, with only 40 percent borrowing an average of $17,116.

The report recommended simplifying the financial aid process to allow students to better understand and take advantage of all available aid. It also proposed associating incentives with financial aid to encourage students and schools to make the best use of the aid they receive.

The report was published by HCM Strategists in collaboration with education policy experts from across the country, including Christopher Edley, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law. The report aims to spark dialogue on growing dropout and default rates — a phenomenon the report called a national crisis.

“It’s time to start a national conversation about the fact that only about 50 percent of students who start college actually graduate,” Halaska said. “What are the right policy levers we can use to help students successfully complete a college degree?”

Jacob Brown is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

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