Graduation Rates Can Be Predicted More Precisely by Examining Student Characteristics, Report Says

The methods used by colleges to predict graduation rates are less than accurate because they leave out key information about the types of students institutions enroll, says a new report from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Colleges could more precisely assess how effective they are at moving students toward degree completion by taking into account the social, economic, and psychological characteristics of first-time freshmen, the report says.

The report, "Completing College: Assessing Graduation Rates at Four-Year Institutions," combines data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program's Freshman Survey, which gathers information on students as they enter college, and graduation data from the National Student Clearinghouse.

"The raw graduation rate doesn't tell the full story," said Sylvia Hurtado, institute director and a co-author of the report. "Sometimes an institution's story is slightly better than they think" because the institution is graduating students at a higher rate than might be expected for students with those particular characteristics. She said the more colleges know about their students and their backgrounds, the more successful they will be at helping them finish their degrees.

Raw graduation rates tend to favor the most-selective institutions and penalize those that offer broad access or enroll large number of first-generation students, even if the institutions are successful in helping their students earn degrees, the report says.

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