Graduation Rates

Systemwide, only 48 percent of the students in Georgia’s four-year public institutions earn a degree within six years of enrollment, compared to a national average of 54 percent. Even allowing eight to 10 years, the percentage of students earning degrees climbs only slightly. In contrast, the Georgia high school graduation rate is between 56 and 60 percent.
–AJC, Degrees are a critical goal

I kept reading this article to find some insight about the problem. All I got was Maureen’s opinions about the thoughts and opinions of universities without even so much as a quote to at least confirm them. For example: “Often times, colleges blame the lack of degree completion on students’ academic shortcomings….” Such a bold accusation has to deserve a report, a quote, something!

I realize the AJC focuses on paper sales, but would it kill you to put a link to the 2005-2006 University System of Georgia Annual Report Card you cited since it is on a web site? As the only documented source, it would be good for others to eyeball the same information. I want too much information not too little. 🙂

The annual report cited has several sections. It covers three measures of the Regents’ Exam, three different kinds of graduation rates, and the freshman retention rates.

I know while I was working at Valdosta State University, freshman retention (report) was huge. A great effort was put towards making sure students learned as much as they could to be successful. Across the system, the freshman retention numbers look pretty good compared to the graduation rates. However, they are for the 2004 cohort and not the 1999! In such a report, I’d like to see the data on a single cohort to be able to compare.

So, what are some of the nuances in all this? It seems a simple Google search led me to an Insidehighered.com piece in 2005 titled, “Missing the Mark: Graduation Rates and University Performance“. It points out:

  • Students may transfer between schools. In Georgia, this is usually thought of as from the smaller schools to the flagships: UGA and GT.
  • Students who take classes part-time while working full-time may take much longer than even 6 years to graduate.

From the same article:

When we use graduation rates to compare campuses and infer from these comparisons that one campus is doing a better job of educating students than another, we exceed the value of the data point. It may be that the campus with a high grad rate is simply giving away its degrees (after all, a diploma mill has a 100 percent graduation rate). It may be that the campus with a low rate is working with high risk students. Or, it may be that the high rate campus is doing a superb job of advising and the low rate campus is ignoring its students.

The grad rate doesn’t tell which answer is right. The right answer requires a detailed analysis of what happened to the students who dropped out, and that takes more than one data point. If the campus improves its own graduation rate, that is probably a good thing, but comparisons of grad rates among campuses usually produce more distortion and misunderstanding than progress.

If we overemphasize graduation rates, colleges may suffer the temptation to do whatever it takes to get the high percentages celebrated by rating agencies and trustees. One way to help improve the rate, after all, is to inflate grades so that all students are above average, and water down the curriculum so everyone can get a degree — not outcomes of much interest to the policy makers, board members, or politicians who tout graduation rates as the touchstone of college performance.

My brother is hurting his school’s graduation rate. His university doesn’t have the degree he seeks. Where he intends to transfer and get that degree doesn’t have the degree his fiancee seeks. Rather than they spend time apart at separate schools, the plan is for her to finish where they are both going to school while he part-times out his degree. After they get married, they will go live where he can finish his degree at the other school.

UPDATE: I like this College Results Online tool to make comparisons.

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