Ben Miller over at Education Sector has an interesting piece up about college completion, apparently a highly contentious issue. One of the things about measures of college completion is that many schools don’t really think they’re valid.

As Miller explains:

The loudest objections to the federal graduation rate always come from the schools that do worst under the measure-typically non-selective or open access institutions. The chief complaints raised by these schools is that the federal methodology penalizes them for students who transfer away and graduate elsewhere, while also not rewarding them for successfully taking in and graduating students from other institutions.

This sounds like a perfectly reasonable objection, but now there’s some more information about the validity of that argument. And it looks like many of these schools aren’t actually helping students successfully transfer to other schools. They may not be “helping” their students to do anything.

Data released last week last week from the Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) reveals that, as Miller puts it:

Open admissions and minimally selective schools are who we thought they were-the bachelor’s degree attainment rate for students who entered those types of institutions in the 2003-04 school year is nearly identical to the federal graduation rate those same colleges reported in to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

The federal graduation rate for minimally selective schools is 40.3 percent, versus 42.7 percent under the most expansive BPS cohort. At open admissions schools, the federal graduation rate of 31.5 percent is actually better than the 29.5 percent reported in the BPS data.

In other words, students who entered schools with low graduation rates had a pretty low likelihood of ever graduating, whether from the institutions they entered as freshmen or from other places. Schools with low graduation rates don’t report low graduation rates because their students transfer elsewhere; the students seem to just drop out of college.

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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