Graduation Rate Information Matters


Many colleges across the United States have very low graduation rates. Shouldn’t schools have to tell their applicants this information in advance? As Watson Scott Swail writes for Stanford University’s College Puzzle blog, he recently had a discussion about graduation rate data. As he explains:

The data launched us into a dialogue about what responsibility college officials—including administrators, professors, counselors, and advisors—have to tell students where they stand with regard to prospective graduation and college success. Every institution houses the data and technology to run every prospective student through a real-time regression analysis to provide a predictive rate of success. That is, we can come up with the odds of a particular student’s chance of graduation from any institution.

One participant was adamant that it would be morally reprehensible to tell students that their odds of success are low. It would, in her words, crush their motivation and thus put them at even greater risk of failure.

While Swail pointed out that he’s always been interested in revealing this information, he seems to have this a little wrong.

The reason to tell them has nothing to do with students’ motivation but, rather, to give the student proper information so that he might choose a better school, and so that schools have an incentive to do a better job. The implication here is that the student will not succeed because he’s not prepared. Perhaps, but as Ben Miller and Phuong Ly wrote for this magazine last year:

It’s important to note that most students who drop out of college don’t fail out of college. They leave because they don’t perceive that the educational benefit of college exceeds the substantial expense of time and money—especially not when it’s coupled with indifferent bureaucracies that pride themselves more on inane complexities than actually helping students. But when students are given high expectations and good teaching to match, they succeed academically. And when they succeed they’re more likely to keep succeeding and eventually earn a degree.

Perhaps a more likely explanation is that the schools aren’t doing a very good job educating their students. That’s something to correct. The more information people, whether potential students, or journalists and academics, have about this problem the better.

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