This week we released two important tools for examining institutional graduation rates. One is our report: “Completing College: Assessing Graduation Rates at Four-Year Institutions.” The other is a companion piece to that and the focus of this blog: the new HERI Expected Graduation Rate Calculator.
“Completing College” tells the story of how we can look at the characteristics of an incoming first-year college class and calculate an “expected” graduation rate, since a good deal of what influences graduation are the characteristics of the incoming class. Thus through our calculator we can see the percentage of students that we would expect to graduate in 4, 5, or 6 years.
Then we compare the expected rate with the actual rate, which we obtained in partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse.
If an institution’s expected rate is lower than the actual, we interpret that as meaning the institution is moving students towards graduation. If the expected rate is higher than the actual rate, there may be some barriers that the institution has to examine that are keeping some students from graduating.
It’s obviously more complicated than that, and I encourage you to read the report.
The calculators are available and pre-populated with institutional data for colleges and universities that participated in the CIRP Freshman Survey in 2004 (the data upon which the report is based), and 2010. Starting with the 2011 CIRP Freshman Survey reporting, the calculator will be part of the standard reporting package.
One of the neat things about the Expected Graduation Rate Calculator is that not only can institutions see their expected 4, 5, and 6-year graduation rates, but they can modify the parameters of the CIRP Freshman Survey results to do some forecasting. For instance, if you were able to house 10% more of your incoming class on campus, how would that impact your expected graduation rate? What if more students came into the institution with a greater understanding of the importance of getting involved in student clubs and groups? Any of 99 different parameters in the calculator can be changed in this “what if” scenario.
Many of you in the retention know of the fantastic work of Don Hossler, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University Bloomington and executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse’s Research Center. Don was really interested in this calculator and had some nice words to say about it that I will repeat here:
“This can be a very useful tool for both internal and external purposes. Senior campus policy makers can use this calculator to benchmark their predicted persistence rates with their actual rates thus enabling them to better understand the impact of their campus policies and practices on this important measure of student success. It can also be used to help external stakeholders such as trustees and public policy makers understand how institutional mission influences institutional persistence rates.”
We at HERI hope this will be a useful tool for institutions trying to understand the complicated issues around retention and graduation, and moving our students further towards their dreams of a college degree.