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by Scholarships.com Staff

A new book is shedding light on graduation rates at state colleges, and also causing a stir with its findings and recommendations. The book, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities, was written by William G. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, Michael S. McPherson, a former president of Macalester College, and Matthew M. Chingos, a graduate student at Harvard University. It shows many of the nation's top public schools are coming up short when it comes to graduating students in four years, especially low-income and minority students.

The book analyzes the four-year and six-year graduation rates of students at 21 flagship universities and 47 four-year public universities in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia.  Among the findings, the authors reveal that flagship universities, typically the most competitive and prestigious in their state university systems, graduate only 49 percent of their students in four years, with other state colleges having even less success.  The six-year graduation rates for both sets of schools are better, but vary widely based on several factors discussed in the book.

Disparities by common demographic factors, namely race and socioeconomic status, were found in the research for the book, and were most pronounced among male students. However, the most striking differences come in terms of schools' selectivity. Some of these disparities include:

  • Graduation rates of 82-89% for the most selective and second most selective categories of schools and most competitive category of students (3.5+ high school GPA and 1200+ SAT score), but graduation rates of only 59% for the same category of students at the least selective schools.
  • Graduation rates of above 70% for all students at the most selective schools, regardless of GPA or test scores.
  • The disparity between the graduation rates of the most and least competitive students at the least selective schools was only 11 percentage points, while the disparity between students of similar ability at schools of different selectivity ranged 21 to 30 percentage points.
  • The least competitive group of students (GPA of less than 3.0 and/or SAT of less than 1000) did better at the most selective schools (71% graduation rate) than the most competitive students did at the least selective schools (59% graduation rate).

These results have many questioning the effectiveness of academic scholarships and other merit-based aid, especially in light of the University of Texas at Austin's recent decision to stop sponsoring the National Merit Scholarship Program. More so, though, they have experts, including the book's authors, wondering what is causing this disparity in graduation rates.

Price plays a huge role for students of low socioeconomic status, pushing them to attend the least expensive (and often least selective) schools or to opt out of four-year colleges entirely. Rising costs also could play a role in dropout rates among poorer students, so the availability of financial aid for all four years is crucial to graduation.

One of the biggest problems identified in the book is a phenomenon dubbed "under-matching." Highly qualified students are aiming low in the college application process, attending less selective schools with lower graduation rates when they could easily be accepted to and graduate from more selective schools with higher graduation rates. Students most likely to under-match are low socioeconomic status students whose parents did not attend or did not graduate from college. The higher a student's income and parents' level of education, the less likely the student is to under-match.

Based on this information, the authors suggest that schools focus their efforts on encouraging students to graduate in four years and to remain in school until they graduate. Keeping tuition low is a part of this, as are readjusting requirements to make graduating in four years more doable and, above all else, making it clear that students are expected to graduate in four years.

Graduation rates are gaining attention from other corners, as well. Washington Monthly included graduation rates in their recently released college rankings, and another study published this summer by the American Enterprise Institute compared graduation rates at colleges.The Education Department is also doing its part to make information on graduation rates available to students who complete the FAFSA on the Web.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Students participating in Division I athletics boast higher graduation rates than other student populations, according to a new round of data.

In a report released yesterday from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), nearly 80 percent of freshman student-athletes who started college in 2002 graduated. The same was true of the graduation rate among student-athletes who entered college between 1992-2002. The numbers showed an increase of one percentage point over the last year, and six percentage points since the last time the same kind of study was released eight years ago. The national graduation rate for 2005-2006, when many of those student-athletes surveyed would be graduating, was about 54 percent, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. (That figure includes students who graduate in any amount of time, as only about 36 percent did so in four years.) According to the federal government, however, the graduation rate of all students entering college in 2002-2003 was about 62 percent.

While the numbers could change the next time students are polled by the NCAA - this one took place before the organization instituted more stringent academic requirements for students to participate in college sports - NCAA officials are boasting that this is the result of more of an emphasis on academic achievement among student athletes. And while the federal graduation rate among athletes is different than that of the NCAA's figures - the NCAA accepts transfer students in its numbers - no matter how you skew the numbers, more student athletes are graduating than non-athletes.

So why is this happening? The NCAA credits tougher eligibility standards for freshman. If you can't handle the academic rigor of college, you won't get a place on the team. While other student populations are required to have certain minimum academic achievements to gain acceptance into most colleges, the oversight in sports programs into how a student continues to perform academically is much greater for those athletes than for other students.

The data also showed that:

  • the kinds of sports pursued by student athletes mattered. Lacrosse players posted the highest graduation rates, with men's baseball and basketball players posting the lowest rates.
  • female athletes fared better overall than the men, reaching nearly 100 percent graduation rates in skiing, and 94 percent in gymnastics.
  • teams, rather than individual athletes, that posted the lowest graduation rates were men's basketball teams.

If you're a student-athlete preparing for the college transition, remember that financial aid awarded by your college isn't the only aid out there. Consider outside athletic scholarships to supplement your financial aid package, especially if your intended school only awards partial scholarships to athletes.


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by Emily

As a college degree has become increasingly necessary in our global economy, career colleges have rapidly risen in popularity. Career colleges are run as businesses and their degree programs are substantially more expensive than the equivalent at community colleges. However, their course offerings appeal to students, with online classes, flexible scheduling, and accelerated programs. Now, a new study shows there are additional draws to for-profit career colleges: compared to community colleges, students who attend career colleges are more likely to graduate.

The Imagine America Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides research and support for career colleges, released a report this week analyzing the retention and program completion rates of career college students in two-year programs, compared to those attending community colleges and not-for-profit two-year colleges. The study found that career colleges have substantially higher rates of both retention and graduation compared to public community colleges, and slightly higher rates compared to other private schools.

Currently, only 57 percent of full-time students at community colleges return the next year, compared to 72 percent of full-time students at career colleges and 68 percent of students at private not-for-profit two-year schools. Part-time students, the group typically seen as most at risk of dropping out, also fared better in retention at career colleges, with 60 percent returning the next year, compared to 42 percent at public two-year schools and 56 percent at private institutions.

Degree completion rates were also significantly higher at for-profit colleges, compared to community colleges. At for-profit schools, 59 percent completed their degree programs, compared with only 23 percent at community colleges. At not-for-profit private schools, 55 percent of students graduated. The degree completion rates at for-profit and private two-year schools are comparable to graduation rates at four-year colleges.

However, there are still questions about whether attending a career college is the best choice. Many in the higher education community have raised concerns over career colleges’ ability to educate students and prepare them to land lucrative jobs, especially given the high rates of student borrowing and student loan default among career college attendees. Currently, the Department of Education is debating increased regulation of career college recruiting to prevent students from borrowing more than they can afford or enrolling in costly programs that don’t produce a measurable economic benefit.

If you’re considering an associate’s degree or certification program, be sure to explore your options. There are pros and cons of both community and career colleges, as well as a number of other factors to be weighed in your college search.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Seventeen states across the country have joined together in a pledge to improve college graduation rates as part of the Complete College America Alliance of States.

The alliance, announced today, is led by Stan Jones, Indiana’s former commissioner for higher education, and the Washington-based nonprofit group Complete College America. It is part of a larger, national effort led by President Obama of making the United States the most educated country by 2020. The main goal is to raise the number of adults between 25 and 35 with associate's or bachelor's degrees from 38 percent to 60 percent.

How will they do it? According to Complete College America, a number of things need to happen to develop  action plans and move legislators to create change. Among those are the following:

  • We must ensure all students are ready to start and succeed in freshman credit courses. (According to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, about 41 percent of students who start college aren't ready for college-level work, resulting in delays and, worse yet, dropouts. We've already reported more college freshmen are in need of remedial coursework.)
  • We must use available financial aid resources to provide incentives to students and colleges for progress and completion.
  • We must develop new, shorter, and faster pathways to degrees and credentials of value in the labor market.
  • We must develop and implement aggressive state and campus-level action plans for meeting the state's college completion goals.
  • We must use consistent data and progression measures to create a culture that values completion, including publicly reporting benchmark data and annual progress on college completion, progression, transfer, job placement and earnings, and cost and affordability measures.

The United States ranks 10th in the percentage of young adults with college degrees, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and an article yesterday in the The Chronicle of Higher Education. While there have been a number of initiatives cropping up recently to move high school students into college faster and move college students through college faster, this project is unique in that it focuses on involving state legislators and creating new policies that would make move such initiatives into law. As ideas become policies, more funding also becomes available on the state and federal level to keep programs in place. (Even successful programs that have helped thousands of students get into and through college have been affected by budget cuts over the last year or so due to the recession.)


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by Kevin Ladd

Since around the middle of the twentieth century, when more and more women began to seek careers, American culture, particularly in the workplace, has had to evolve and expand to accommodate this change. While it once was assumed that practically every employee with children had a spouse and that they (wife) handled all the "family stuff" during the workday and when said employee (husband) was on the road, now allowances for maternity leave, time-off to attend PTA meetings, school plays, etc. had to be made. It seems somewhat ironic that they’ve mostly, if not exclusively, been made with respect to womens' schedules. Apparently it is still assumed, though they are now every bit the career person their spouse is, that women are the ones who must handle all of the aforementioned "family stuff". At least, this appears to be the case on college campuses, according to a recent study.

There are many problems with the apparently common practice of making more allowances for women as parents than are made for men and I only have the time and space to get into a few of them, unfortunately. While this policy was clearly intended as a way to allow women to have the requisite career flexibility to have both children and profession, is this not still sexist? Does it not make an extremely broad generalization about all male/female relationships and the responsibilities and gender-based assignments that were common a century ago? I am sure it gets even more complicated in the case of female/female partnerships and male/male partnerships where children are involved.

Apparently, one of the problems with changing this all-too-common policy is that men generally tend to find it much more difficult to admit to being unhappy with their work/home balance. It seems that, traditionally, it is not nearly as acceptable for men to complain about spending too much time at work and not enough caring for and spending time with their family. There is the older male faculty to consider, for starters. Those who might come from a different generation and whose mother more likely was a homemaker and whose father worked six days a week. Those who would not really understand the plight of their younger male counterpart, and this could discourage a younger man to complain or communicate any sort of displeasure with this policy until he has tenure. Often, men in the employ of a college or university might even try to put off having children until they have achieved this level of career stability, making it easier for them to balance their career schedule and their family schedule with greater confidence and control. Those still trying to get tenure are much less likely to ask for time off for any reason, for fear of doing anything at all that might jeopardize their chances at this desirable, almost necessary, status at a university. It should be noted, too, that this can be much more difficult for a woman to do and is just one more way in which this policy is detrimental to both men and women.

I think it’s time we, as a society, respect and recognize both parents in any given family as responsible for the raising of their children and afford them equal benefits and opportunities not just for employment but of employment. Without either gender having to admit displeasure with the terms of their employment or work/home balance when surveyed, each person should be afforded the option to occasionally tailor their schedule based upon their responsibilities as parents without worrying it might cost them their career.


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by Agnes Jasinski

You may remember a recent initiative begun by Lansing Community College that guaranteed students jobs post-graduation if they completed programs in high-demand fields at the school. The idea of offering incoming freshmen guarantees in exchange for their enrollment in a particular school has caught on, with more schools, especially those with low enrollments, providing students with promises of clearer career paths and timely graduations.

Albion College, also in Michigan, recently unveiled a new program called “The Albion Advantage,” which aims to get students career-ready as soon as they step onto the school’s campus. Students will now be provided with a higher degree of professional services early on, with career planning weaved into the private liberal arts school’s curriculum and assessments that analyze students’ strengths and weaknesses to provide them with a better idea of which careers they would be most successful in. The biggest change, however, is the school’s new post-graduation guarantee. Students who graduate with a 3.0 GPA but are unable to find jobs in their major areas after they graduate are eligible to receive assistance from the school in the form of internships and research assistant opportunities on and off campus, more professional development services until they land jobs, and a free, noncredit semester at Albion.

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education took a look at the Albion’s program and the reasoning behind it. Administrators at the school say the college decided something had to be done after the previous year’s enrollment numbers came in. Albion had planned to enroll 475 to 500 new students; 434 freshmen enrolled instead. The cost of attending the school (about $40,000 per year) may have been a factor in the decrease in applicants, as students are looking for better deals elsewhere through state colleges or vocational schools where they may learn a skill or trade and enter the workforce. Michigan is also the state with the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Elsewhere, colleges are using different guarantees to get students interested in their schools. The University of Maine at Farmington introduced the "Farmington in Four" program earlier this year. That program promises incoming freshmen that if they don’t graduate from the school within four years, they will be able to complete their remaining coursework free of charge. (According to the U.S. Department of Education, a little more than half of all students at four-year colleges graduate within six years. Private colleges have the highest graduation rates, according to U.S. News and World Report’s recent rankings of the “best colleges” in the country.)


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by Agnes Jasinski

Several four-year colleges are already looking into offering accelerated three-year programs, either to bring more revenue into their schools or to offer an official path for students already working to complete their degrees under the traditional four years. Associate’s programs have always been an alternative for students looking for lower-cost options in specific fields and disciplines, and typically take two or more years to complete. One school, however, will launch an accelerated version of the typically two-year program, giving the students the option of receiving a degree in one year flat.

Starting this fall, Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana will offer a pilot program to students interested in completing degrees in health-care support in just one year. Students must commit to an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. school week, five days a week, but in exchange, the cost of the program and any associated tuition and fees will be covered by the college. The fifth day in that school week will be reserved for fields trips, more experiential activities, or additional class time if certain instructors need it.

According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the program, this is the first community college in the country to offer an accelerated associate’s degree. The project was made possible by more than $2.5 million in grants from the Lumina Foundation for Education and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, and aims to address low degree-completion and retention rates among low-income students. Only about 25 percent of students who enter associate’s degree programs graduate with that two-year degree, according to The Chronicle.

Is it really possible to squeeze all of that instruction into one year? Ivy Tech administrators say yes. The students who were welcomed into the program for the fall were determined to be “college-ready” by guidance counselors and faculty and staff at the college, based on their academic achievements in college and any relevant test scores and records. Students will be divided into cohorts of between 12 to 20 students, and will receive condensed instruction where they are expected to synthesize quite a bit of information at one time. All of the students will be receiving financial aid. In fact, they must be in need of financial aid to enter into the program, as one of the aims of the program is to improve the success rates of low-income student populations.

According to The Chronicle, a number of technology centers in Tennessee have been experimenting with accelerated certificate programs, although they do not award associate’s degrees in any fields of study. Proponents of acceleration say programs like the one at Ivy Tech are especially useful in areas with competitive job markets or high numbers of unemployment workers who need new skills; graduates are able to get back out into the workforce with new skills in less time than before. What do you think? Is one year too little time to get a degree? Should four-year colleges look to accelerate programs even further?


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by Agnes Jasinski

For some students entering their fifth, sixth, maybe even seventh years of college in the fall, administrators in the California State University system have a message for you: Graduate. Please.

You may remember reading about the trouble California colleges and universities in general have had over the last year. Budget problems have forced schools to significantly limit enrollments, placing students on wait lists for the first time in many of the schools’ histories. “Super seniors” are now viewed as part of the problem, taking up valuable space on the state’s campuses while would-be freshmen look elsewhere for available slots.

The California State University system has begun introducing initiatives targeting those students who take longer than four years to graduate. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes the state system’s dilemma describes these initiatives as expanding advising services, limiting financial aid, and getting department heads more involved in making sure students graduate in a more timely fashion. Administrators say this doesn’t mean students will be prohibited from switching majors if they find themselves flailing in a potential degree they were pushed toward by their parents, for example.

In fact, students who take longer to graduate but aren’t amassing a large number of credits (perhaps because they are attending school part-time, for example) aren’t even the target of the initiatives. The school is after the “Van Wilder” types. The Chronicle describes one 50-year-old student who had more than 250 credit hours under his belt, which came out to about eight years of full-time college schooling. He had enough credits for degrees in both health sciences and theater, but wanted to start over to get a degree in marketing. According to The Chronicle, the school handed him his degrees and told him to look elsewhere for that new degree: "At 50 years old, you should know what you want, and you're stopping two other young people from coming to this university,” Cynthia Z. Rawitch, associate vice president for undergraduate studies at California State University, said in the article.

The California State University system hopes to raise its six-year graduation rate up to about 54 percent by 2016, according to The Chronicle. Studies over the years from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics have shown that less than 40 percent of students graduate within four years, so this may be something other states should look into doing to increase freshman class sizes as well. There may be a number of reasons for students’ graduation delays, however: transferring schools, balancing work and school, indecision about choosing a major or switching majors well into a college career, or a number of other potential factors. What do you think? Should students be held more accountable for how long it takes them to graduate?


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by Agnes Jasinski

Although many students are able to complete their associate degrees in two years, a number of community colleges are looking to shorten students’ time at their institutions even further. The changes at one school alone have included moving from semesters to trimesters, shortening courses from 16 to 14 weeks, and offering more options for degree completion in the summer, when most schools offer fewer classes than in the fall and spring terms.

An article this week in Inside Higher Ed suggests more community colleges are looking to meet the call from the Obama administration and organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to get students out in the real world with degrees before they drop out. President Obama is placing great weight on the power of community colleges to double the number of graduates in the United States by 2020.

At Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, for example, all students are able to earn an associate degree in just 14-16 months if they complete one course every two weeks under the school’s trimester system. According to Inside Higher Ed, about a quarter of the students there have been graduating in a shorter amount of time. Lower Columbia College will introduce a program called the “Transfer Express” this fall. Students in the program will be able to earn an associate degree in one year. You may also remember that Ivy Tech Community College will offer a pilot program come fall to students interested in completing degrees in health-care support. Students will be able to earn their degrees in one year if they commit to an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five-day-a-week school schedule.

So what’s the incentive to community colleges to move students through faster? Doesn’t it hurt their bottom line? According to Inside Higher Ed, students in accelerated programs are more likely to graduate—and less likely to drop out—than those who may be going to school at a less break-neck pace. Allowing students to finish traditionally two-year programs in a year or a little over also opens up room at community colleges for more students to enroll, a significant advantage when a number of two-year schools are having accommodating an increase in applicants.

Accelerated programs aren’t for everyone, though. Students who have no plans to drop out of school may find the pace too challenging, and consider leaving programs for a more traditional two-year program. Some students will also need additional, remedial instruction in introductory courses that have no place in accelerated programs. If you’re interested though, it could be a decent money-saver for you, as many schools that offer the programs do so with tuition discounts attached.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As if you needed more reason to study abroad, a recent study looking at 10 years worth of data shows that students who take educational experiences overseas have higher graduation rates once they’re back on their campuses. Not surprisingly, the study also found that those students also have a greater appreciate of cultures outside of their own once they’re back from their time abroad, and see the world in the a broader context.

The project comes from the Georgia Learning Outcomes of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative, or GLOSSARI. It looked at data from 35 institutions of higher education and more than 19,000 students across Georgia since 2000. Study abroad students were compared to a “control group” of nearly 18,000 students who matched those students studying abroad when it came to variables like socioeconomic status and where they were in their college careers, among other characteristics. Among the findings:

  • The six-year graduation rate for study abroad students was about 88.7 percent, compared to 83.4 percent for those in the control group.
  • The four-year graduation rate for study abroad students was 49.6 percent, compared to 42.1 percent for those in the control group.
  • Four-year graduation rates for African-American students who studied abroad were 31 percent higher than for those African-American students in the control group. (According to an article in Inside Higher Ed on the study, it is important to note that minorities are still underrepresented in study abroad programs; about 81.8 percent of American students studying abroad are white.)
  • GPAs were higher among those studying abroad as well. Those who went abroad had average cumulative GPAs of 3.30, compared to 3.06 among those in the control group.

This doesn’t mean your grades will automatically improve once you study abroad, or that you’ll get back on track to graduate on time if you head overseas for a while. But it may mean that even those students at risk of dropping out of college may benefit from study abroad.

Study abroad isn’t always painted in a positive light. Some critics say it’s a distraction from academics, and more of a vacation for college students than a learning experience. Sure, living in a foreign country for a semester or even just a summer probably has perks that have nothing to do with your job as a student. But there is value in the experience. You’ll be forced to become more independent and hone new skills, have the opportunity to learn a new language, and even give your resume a boost. Have you studied abroad? What would you say to college students considering going abroad?

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GPA , Study Abroad

Tags: GPA , Graduation Rates , Study Abroad

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