Less Traditional, Less Success: The Negative Effect of Nontraditional Students on Community College Graduation Rates
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Community colleges enroll 40% of all undergraduates and 60% of community college students are independent for financial aid purposes. Independent students, with a number of nontraditional traits, are increasing as high school graduate numbers dwindle in large parts of the country. However, the presence of nontraditional students as an institutional characteristic, and its effect on graduation rates, has not been previously studied quantitatively or at scale. Using data from the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard, regression analysis found a substantial and statistically significant negative effect of a college’s independent student percent on its graduation rate. This effect of between -12.5% and -25.2% remained after holding other previously identified variables constant and examining the interaction between independent percent and part-time attendance percent. These findings suggest that one or more obstacles unique to nontraditional students must be identified and remediated to increase graduation rates.