How to Measure College Graduation Rate

An established measure of the effectiveness of colleges has long been the graduation rate over a six year period. One criticism of the rate is that it fails to take into account the barriers students have to college success. If a college student is poor, or has children, or must also support a family the chances of him completing college in six years are low. This is true even if the student works very hard and eventually completes a degree.

Many argue that it’s now time for a new measure. According to an article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education:

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) Monday [discussed]… a white paper arguing for a new index that places emphasis on factors such as students’ socioeconomic status and academic preparedness. Public HBCUs, in particular, are facing renewed concern about their relevance as policymakers and the public have increased scrutiny of public college outcomes.

But Watson Scott Swail of the Educational Policy Institute said to Diverse Issues that changing the methodology doesn’t necessarily fix the problem. The trouble is that many of the schools asking for a change in the graduation rate calculation actually do have trouble graduating their students, no matter how one measures it:

“The issue is that you have a multitude of variables in this process. The graduation rate is an important indicator and to say it isn’t is disingenuous,” said Swail. “That’s a bit harsh but I don’t think any institution, whether they are predominantly White or minority, should hide behind this stuff.”

The paper just calls for a new measure. The success of this project would seem to depend on what the alternative measure looks like. The TMCF will release its report (and presumably the proposed alternative calculation) on Wednesday.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer