College & Workforce Readiness

Report Sheds Light on Factors Influencing College Graduation

By Caralee J. Adams — November 29, 2011 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A report out today looks at just who is getting a college degree, offering schools insight into the factors that lead to success and ways to better serve students.

Completing College: Assessing Graduation Rates at Four-Year Institutions by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests looking beyond raw graduation rates as a measure of quality and take into account the types of students that enroll in various institutions. For instance, students at private schools have better graduation rates compared with those at public schools, but they also tend to be more academically prepared. First-generation college students who often struggle more to complete are more likely to attend a public college.

Considering only bottom-line graduation rates overlooks the varying performance of student groups, the report says, and runs the risk of schools sifting through only the best students to boost their appearance of success. It can discourage schools from enrolling a broad range of students, who may need extra supports to finish.

Gender is a factor in graduation rates, and the gap in completion has widened in the past decade. Now, 43.8 percent of women earn a degree after four years, compared to 32.9 percent of men. The largest gender gaps are at public four-year colleges, where 45.3 percent of men vs. 52.7 percent of women complete.

All institutions have difficulty getting first-generation college students to the finish line. After four years, 27.4 percent of first-generation college students earn a degree, while students whose parents have college degrees have a graduation rate of 42.1 percent. The gap is widest at Catholic four-year universities and public universities, which enroll the majority of first-generation students. Completion was better for this group of students at other religious institutions and at private schools, the researchers discovered.

There are distinct racial disparities in completion. Asian-Americans had the highest four-year graduation rates at 44.9 percent, followed by whites, 42.6 percent; Latinos, 25.8 percent; African-Americans, 21 percent; and American Indians, 16.8 percent.

Overall graduation rates in colleges and universities went up by about 2.5 percent in the past decade. Much of the increase in degree completion is among the most academically prepared students.

Predicting graduation rates based on the characteristics of an incoming freshman class is essential in evaluating degree attainment, the report says. The researchers offer models to help schools reach those estimates.

What else ups the chances of students completing college?

These are some interesting factors positively associated with completion revealed in the report:

-Living on campus the first year of college.

-Selecting a college because of early action or early decision admittance.

-Deciding on a college because of overall cost of attending.

-Choosing a school based on size.

-Starting college with experience using the Internet for research.

-Visiting the college campus before enrolling.

-Expecting to participate in student clubs.

-Enjoying a strong sense of emotional health.

-Possessing a strong desire to achieve.

-Being open to changing one’s career.

-Devoting more hours a week in high school studying.

-Choosing a college to attend based on it being near home

-Performing volunteer work in high school.

-Going to college to gain a general education.

-Choosing a college based on the importance of its graduates getting good jobs.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.