05/09/2019 -- Kennesaw, Georgia -- Kennesaw State University graduates get excited before walking across the stage and receiving their degrees during the 223rd Kennesaw State University commencement ceremony at the convocation center on the university's main campus in Kennesaw, Thursday, May 9, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ

Georgia ahead of the class in college completion rates, report says

Georgia’s college completion rate has increased in recent years more than nearly every state in the nation, according to a new report.

Sixty-one percent of students who enrolled in a Georgia college or university completed their coursework within six years, a 9.3 percentage point increase over the last five years, according to the report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Michigan also had a 9.3 percentage point increase. Utah had the highest increase, a 9.5 percentage point jump to 51%.

Federal officials and educators use six years as the benchmark for college completion. Completion rates include students who finished coursework toward an associate degree and adults pursuing certificates. Many educators believe the completion rate is the most complete measure of a college’s success.

Georgia’s completion rate is 20th nationally, up ten spots from five years ago. The national completion rate is 60%, the report shows. Vermont had the highest rate at 74%, while Nevada ranked last, at 38%. Five states — Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and West Virginia — were not included because they have uneven historical data, the report said.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp celebrated the findings in a statement Thursday, saying more college-educated workers are needed to fill jobs throughout the state.

“It has never been more important for Georgia to build a world-class workforce ready to take on the jobs of the 21st century,” Kemp said. “Hardworking Georgians who finish a post-secondary education allow us to do just that.”

Graduates wait to take their seats at the 132nd Spelman College commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 19, 2019, at the Georgia International Convention Center. (Photo: ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

About 60% of Georgia’s college students are enrolled in the University System of Georgia, which has a six-year completion rate of nearly 62%. University System officials attribute the increase in graduation rates to recent initiatives such as “Momentum Year,” which requires first-year students to take core math and English courses. Students who are unprepared for those college-level courses are directed to remedial math and English classes, which the system says has helped their academic performance.

Augusta and Columbus State universities each had double-digit percentage increases in graduation rates in the last five years, state data shows. Georgia Tech has the highest graduation rate, 90%, with the University of Georgia just one percentage point behind.

University System officials said in a statement they are working on additional efforts to improve the numbers. The system recently completed a draft report of changes to its core curriculum that aim to improve student oral and written communication skills and their mastery of data.

“This increase could not have happened without a laser focus on finding ways to enable more students to earn college credentials of value,” said Tristan Denley, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. “But we are certainly not resting on our laurels, as we are continuing to develop and implement innovations to build on these improvements to student success and keep the momentum growing.”

Georgia’s numbers were also boosted by several private colleges and universities. Emory University, the state’s largest private institution, has a six-year graduation rate of about 90%, federal data shows. Spelman College’s graduation rate, about 75%, is the highest of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities. 

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