Opinion
Education Opinion

More On The Times Story On Graduation Rates

By Alexander Russo — February 13, 2007 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

There’s probably no one who knows more about college graduation rates than longtime USDE data guru Cliff Adelman (now Senior Associate, Institute for Higher Education Policy).

While not criticizing Dillon directly or praising the University of Phoenix for its programs, Adelman says that data used prominently in the NYT story are extremely problematic. “I don’t think one can even judge a Phoenix “graduation rate” in the traditional sense of beginning students completing degrees---not with our current formula.”

Click below to read the full Adelman analysis. From Adelman:

Leaving aside the issue of the quality of what Phoenix (and its ilk) delivers, on which I will not comment:

First, the ludicrous federal definition of graduation rate counts only those who (a) entered in a fall term, (b) entered as full-time students, and (c) graduated from the same institution in which they began.

What’s wrong with that? To keep everything matched with Phoenix, which is technically a 4-year school: 8 percent of entering 4-year college students don’t start in the fall term (among community college beginners, it’s 25 percent)--rather (usually) winter/spring (though there is some summer--and we can talk about that separately). Another 27 percent start part-time (52% for community college beginners). So right away the federal formula (“Congressional Methodology” as it is called) excludes roughly a third of students from the calculation of graduation rates.

Second, 20% of those who start in a 4-year college and earn a bachelor’s degree earn it from a different 4-year college. These folks aren’t counted as successful completers under the Congressional Methodology because the formula does not recognize transfers-in. Likewise, 15 percent of the bachelor’s completers in any one year had started in a community college. The community college may get credit for the fact that these student transferred to a 4-year, but the 4-year gets no credit for their graduation---'cause we don’t count transfers in. So, at the level of the bachelor’s degree the feds do not recognize 35% of the students who actually earn the degree.

Now STOP because there’s something more important. The data I just gave you come from the most recently completed of the U.S. Department of Education’s longitudinal studies that started with 8th graders and followed them through age 26/27. And it’s transcript-based data, so it doesn’t lie.

But a national longitudinal study such as that is about your daughter and her friends, not your brother-in-law. These folks live on different planets, and, as I reminded folks in “The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School Through College” (U.S. Department of Education, 2006), if you mix them together in the same analysis you distort both reality and policy based on that false mix.

Older beginning students are even less likely to enter in the fall term or as full-time students. Your brother-in-law may be a smart and determined guy, but he comes with 2 kids, 2 cars, 2 mortgages, and 2 jobs. Your daughter comes with none of the above, right? Oh, and if your 31 year-old brother-in-law had attended college for a year when he was 19, he’s not counted under the Congressional Methodology ‘cause he’s not really a “first time” student.

It’s your brother-in-law who is the typical Phoenix student. If he is truly first-time, his chances of finishing a degree in 6 years (the censoring date under federal calculations) are pretty low. Maybe 8 or 9 years, but we don’t know because none of our longitudinal studies that include older beginning students run for more than 6 years. I don’t think one can even judge a Phoenix “graduation rate” in the traditional sense of beginning students completing degrees---not with our current formula.

The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP