Why Have College Completion Rates Declined? An Analysis of Changing Student Preparation and Collegiate Resources

65 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2009 Last revised: 3 Nov 2010

See all articles by John Bound

John Bound

University of Michigan; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Michael Lovenheim

Cornell University - Department of Policy Analysis and Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Sarah E. Turner

University of Virginia; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: December 2009

Abstract

Partly as a consequence of the substantial increase in the college wage premium since 1980, a much higher fraction of high school graduates enter college today than they did a quarter century ago. However, the rise in the fraction of high school graduates attending college has not been met by a proportional increase in the fraction who finish. Comparing two cohorts from the high school classes of 1972 and 1992, we show eight-year college completion rates declined nationally, and this decline is most pronounced amongst men beginning college at less-selective public 4-year schools and amongst students starting at community colleges. We decompose the observed changes in completion rates into the component due to changes in the preparedness of entering students and the component due to collegiate characteristics, including type of institution and resources per student. We find that, while both factors play a role, it is the collegiate characteristics that are more important. A central contribution of this analysis is to show the importance of the supply-side of the higher education in explaining changes in college completion.

Suggested Citation

Bound, John and Lovenheim, Michael and Turner, Sarah E., Why Have College Completion Rates Declined? An Analysis of Changing Student Preparation and Collegiate Resources (December 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w15566. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1518759

John Bound (Contact Author)

University of Michigan ( email )

611 Tappan Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1220
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313-998-7149 (Phone)
313-998-7415 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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United States

Michael Lovenheim

Cornell University - Department of Policy Analysis and Management ( email )

Ithaca, NY
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Sarah E. Turner

University of Virginia ( email )

Curry School of Education
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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