Number of Enrollment Spells: United States

Enrollment spells for U.S. community colleges as of spring 2009, by demographic and enrollment characteristics

What Is Measured?

Number of enrollment spells within six years of first enrolling in a U.S. community college

Who Is Counted?

First-time college students who first enrolled in U.S. community colleges in the 2003-04 academic year as of spring 2009

What It Tells Us

About half of students who first enrolled in a U.S. community college attended continuously for the duration of their enrollment, 36 percent stopped out once, and another 14 percent stopped out two or more times. Students starting in a certificate program were more likely to enroll continuously (58 percent) than students in an associate or bachelor's degree program (49 percent) or students not in a degree program (50 percent). Students pursuing an occupational or technical associate degree were more likely to attend continuously (55 percent) than students pursuing a general education or transfer associate degree (47 percent).

Why It's Important

Students who enroll continuously in community college are more likely to complete an associate degree, transfer to a four-year institution, and earn a bachelor's degree than students who do not enroll, or "stop out," for a significant period of time. Continuous enrollment is usually defined as enrollment every consecutive term exclusive of summer terms or enrollment with no break greater than four or five months. Students who stop out are not earning credits during their absence and may find it difficult to resume their momentum in community college afterward.

About the Data

Stopout: defined as a break in enrollment of more than four months. Enrollment spells may take place over more than one institution and end with a student stopping out or leaving without returning.

Full-time/part-time enrollment: indicates student's cumulative enrollment through 2009. Full-time is defined as 12 or more credit hours per semester.

Race/ethnicity: Other includes Native American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and individuals who indicated Other or Two or more races. Race categories exclude Hispanic/Latino origin unless specified.

Social sciences and humanities: includes cultural and gender studies; visual and performing arts; English language and literature; family and consumer sciences; philosophy, theology, and religious studies; psychology; social sciences and history; and liberal arts, general studies, and humanities.

STEM: includes agricultural and natural resource studies; biological and biomedical sciences; computer and information sciences and support; engineering; mathematics and statistics; physical sciences; science technologies and technicians; and engineering technologies and related fields.

Type of associate degree: A.A.S. includes occupational or technical associate degrees and A.A. or A.S. includes general education or transfer associate degrees.

Income percentile rank: calculated separately for dependent and independent students and then combined. Each ranking thus compares the respondent only to other respondents of the same dependency status. Uses parents' income if respondent is dependent and uses respondent's own income if respondent is independent.

Data Source

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, Second Follow-up (BPS:04/09).