Dropout factory Chicago State University, which as of last year had a graduation rate of 13 percent, said it was trying to do something. It turns out its efforts to improve graduation may have resulted in some cheating.

Earlier this year CSU announced that it was bringing up the graduation rate. According to a press release CSU issued in May:

The six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time freshmen has grown to 23.2 percent from 13.9 percent a year ago and 14.1 percent two years ago.

“We are extremely proud of the tenacity and accomplishments of our 2011 graduating class,” said CSU President Wayne D. Watson, Ph.D. “Students from challenging social and economic circumstances can achieve success in the marketplace when institutions like CSU provide them the level playing field and adequate supports to realize the promise of a college education.”

While a 23 percent graduation rate is not ordinarily cause for celebration, it turns out this school was at the same time being pretty lenient about letting its students remain on the books. According to a piece by Jodi Cohen in the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago State has a policy that students with a grade-point average below 1.8 will be dismissed “for poor scholarship,” but records obtained by the newspaper show students were allowed to continue registering for classes with GPAs as low as 0.0.

By not enforcing its own policy, CSU permitted untold numbers of students — perhaps hundreds — to remain enrolled. The school dismissed 298 undergraduates at the end of this past spring term, the same time the Tribune began asking for data on student grades.

Watson said that the school ended its policy of continuing to enroll low GPA students, a practice that dated from the tenure of his predecessor.

Of the 528 freshman who enrolled when Watson started his presidency, 475 enrolled for a second semester. Some 140 of them (29 percent) had GPAs below 1.8. If they’d actually been kicked out, the school’s completion rate would have looked ever worse. Of those 475 students 301 of them were still technically enrolled at the beginning of this year. A little over 20 percent of them had GPAs below 1.8.

In the two years that he’s headed the school Watson has pointed to increased retention as evidence the school was improving.

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