College graduation is an indicator of the quality of the state's K-12 and higher education resources. High college enrollment and degree numbers also benefit Virginia by contributing to the quality of the workforce. The percent of high school seniors planning to attend a two- or four-year college is an indicator of K-12 student preparation, family influence, academic counseling, and the availability and affordability of post-secondary education in the state.
Why is This Important?
College graduation is one measure of the success of our post-secondary education system. Degree numbers in turn depend on Virginia's success in enrolling students and ensuring that they graduate. The post-graduation plans of high school seniors provide an indication of the perceived opportunities available in higher education and their preparation to take advantage of those opportunities.
How is Virginia doing?
College degree rates are measured as the number of degrees awarded by degree level per 100,000 residents. Since 2001, Virginia's degree rate has risen for associate's, bachelor’s and graduate / professional degrees. In 2001, the degree rate was 160 per 100,000 residents for associate's, 475 for bachelor's and 204 for graduate/professional degrees. In 2010, the rates stood at 263, 566, and 294 respectively.
Graduates per 100,000 residents: By degree and state, 2010
|United States (average)||275.13||534.43||275.82|
|Rhode Island--leading bachelor's||341.07||1011.53||298.51|
In 2010, Virginia’s associate's degree rate -- 263 -- ranked 20th among the states and below the national average of 275 per 100,000 people. The rate for bachelor's degrees -- 566 -- was above the national average of 534 and ranked Virginia 23rd. Graduate/professional degree production -- 294 -- was also above the national average of 276 and ranked Virginia 17th.
The national leaders were Arizona for associate's degrees (786), Rhode Island for bachelor's degrees (1,011), and Massachusetts for graduate/professional degrees (605). Among Virginia’s neighbors, Maryland produced more graduate/professional degrees (324). However, Virginia did lead the region in bachelor’s and associate’s degrees.
Overall, Virginia's three-year graduation rate for students seeking an associate's degree has been slowly trending upwards. In 2000, the graduation rate was 21.9 percent. In 2009, the rate stood at 29.6 percent, ranking Virginia 18th nationally -- and just above the national average of 29.2 percent. That rate is also above North Carolina (20.5%, Maryland (21.8%), and Tennessee (26.2%). South Dakota had the highest associate's degree graduation rate in the nation in 2009 at 60.7 percent.
Virginia's rate of graduation for bachelor's degrees within six years is 9th in the nation. The baccalaureate graduation rate in Virginia has generally been flat since 2005, and was 63.2 percent in 2009. Although lower than Maryland's rate of 64.1 percent, it was higher than both North Carolina (58.9%) and Tennessee (51.5%). The highest ranking state, Massachusetts, had a college graduation rate of 69.2 percent in 2009.
Virginia's enrollment rates are measured as the number of native students per 100,000 residents enrolled as new students. These rates have increased significantly since 2000. On average, enrollment at public community colleges went up from 191 new students per 100,000 residents in 2002 to 352 in 2011. At public and private, non-profit four-year schools, the rate increased from 326 in 2002 to 364 in 2011.
Among Virginia's regions, in 2011 the Southside sent the most new students to public community colleges (504) and Northern Virginia the fewest (298). Conversely, the Northern region sent the most new students to four-year public and private non-profit colleges (419), while the Southwest region (169) sent the fewest.
Forty-six percent of Virginia's graduating seniors surveyed in 2010 planned to attend a four-year college. In the Northern region, more than half (54 percent) planned to attend four-year colleges. The Southwest and Southside regions had the highest percentages -- 46 and 40 percent, respectively -- of students planning to attend a two-year college program after graduation.
What Influences College Graduation Rates?
College graduation rates are primarily influenced by three factors: level of student preparation for college; affordability and access to financial aid; and institutional efforts at retention.
College enrollment and high school seniors' plans to attend college are also influenced by a variety of factors, including:
- the availability of opportunities in the region and in the state
- preparation in high school
- family educational background
- guidance & career counseling
- the financial cost of higher education
What is the State's Role?
The state education system works to graduate students who have the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to successfully complete post-secondary education. This includes ensuring that:
- high school standards are rigorous and aligned with college expectations
- low-income students have access to financial aid
- a coordinated system of higher education, with adequate resources and infrastructure to meet demands, is robust and varied enough to create a broad range of options for Virginia students
Data Definitions and Sources
(updated annually in November)
Degrees awarded: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/
Graduation rates: National Center for Educational
Statistics. IPEDS Graduation Rate Survey,
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.
Based on data from NCHEMS Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis:
Bachelor's degree-seeking students: Percentage of first-time, full-time bachelor's degree-seeking students earning any formal award (certificate, associate, or bachelors degree) within six years—Title IV degree-granting institutions.
Associate degree-seeking students: Percentage of first-time full-time associate degree-seeking students earning any formal award (certificate, associate) within three years—Title IV degree-granting institutions.
The calculations do not account for transfers across institutions.
(updated annually in December)
Fall headcount by domicile of new undergraduates, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, E12 Report.
Regional Data and High School Senior Graduation Plans: Virginia Department of Education
A high school senior may indicate post-graduation plans for one the following options:
- Four-year college plans -- student plans to attend a four-year accredited college or university.
- Two-year college plans -- student plans to attend a two-year or community college.
- Other plans -- student plans to attend a business school or trade/technical school, or to participate in an apprenticeship program.
- No continuing education plans -- student provides no further education plans upon graduation.
- Military -- student plans to serve in the military.
- Employment -- student plans to go into
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.