The Education Trust re-releases College Results with new data

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Publication date: 
May 22 2008 (All day)

 College Results Online: www.collegeresults.org

Washington — On campuses large and small in every part of America, proud parents are snapping photos as their sons and daughters receive college diplomas. These freshly minted degrees not only fulfill families’ dreams but also hold the promise of a more productive and prosperous future for all of us. 

The dreams of parents for their children and the collective well-being of America have always been  tightly bound together. Generations of American parents worked hard to make sure their children had better educational opportunities than they did. And beginning with President Lyndon Johnson, our nation’s leaders have taken bold actions aimed at eliminating financial barriers and other obstacles that prevent hard-working students from attending the college of their choice. 

Together, those aspirations and actions made us the most educated people on earth, and that status fueled the “American century.” 

But even as our nation welcomes a new crop of college graduates, clear and troubling signals abound:

  • Today’s young people are NOT better educated than their parents, a sad position we hold in common with only one other developed country, and
  • After years of progress, the black-white gap in college degrees is no smaller now than it was a generation ago, and the gap between Latinos and whites actually has widened.

These chilling facts are, in part, the result of what happens—and does not happen—on our campuses. For too many students, what does not happen is graduation: Only about four in 10 of those who start full time in four-year colleges earn a degree in four years, a number that rises to about six in 10 within six years.

But those are averages. Beneath the overall national data on college completion lie vastly different stories on individual campuses. Some of these stories  point the way toward greater success for all of our young people, and some offer cautionary tales of both treasure and talent squandered. 

In updating College Results Online (www.collegeresults.org) with the most recent federal data, The Education Trust provides a window on these stories. This unique Web-based tool allows students, families, policymakers and the public to view the six-year college graduation rates—broken down by race, ethnicity, and gender—for virtually every institution in the country that grants bachelor’s degrees and to compare the rates with those of similar schools.

Too often, it’s assumed that graduation rates are determined solely by the demographic characteristics or SAT scores of the student body. The data found on College Results Online tell a different story. It turns out that campuses with very similar missions serving very similar student populations often have very different graduation rates.

San Diego State University and the University of Houston, for example, enroll similar percentages of Latino students with similar average SAT scores. In 2002, the two schools also graduated those students at about the same rate (34.8 percent at Houston and 31.4 percent at San Diego State). Both improved their Latino graduation rates over the next four years without changing their admission standards, but San Diego State’s gains far surpassed Houston’s: SDSU graduated 54 percent of its Latino students in 2006, compared with Houston’s 41.1 percent.

The College Results Online data reveal other stories of improvement, like that of the University of Alabama. Alabama’s graduation rate for black students grew from 53 percent in 2002 to 65 percent in 2006—the same year in which similar institutions graduated only 56.6 percent of their black students. Alabama didn’t change its admission standards. It didn’t change its graduation standards. And it didn’t reduce the percentage of black students it enrolled. Instead, the university redesigned its introductory mathematics course to provide greater support to freshmen with limited mathematics skills.

University leaders believe that this new approach to mathematics instruction contributed to the success of these students and to that of the school. In fact, the success rate of black students, who in fall 1999 were passing at a meager rate of 35 percent, spiked to over 63 percent by 2002.

This transformation has helped eliminate the graduation gap between black and white students on that campus. According to College Results Online, Alabama’s 2006 graduation rates show that 65 percent of black students graduated within six years, while the figure for white students was 62.7 percent.

Understanding what institutions like San Diego State and Alabama are doing is a critical step to ensuring greater success for students, for colleges, and for our country. But we need to hear more of these stories, particularly about colleges that are successful—or less than successful—at helping low-income students graduate. College Results Online presents much important data collected by the federal government, but a missing piece of the puzzle is information on graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients, which postsecondary institutions currently are not required to report. Now that Congress is revising the Higher Education Act, lawmakers must ensure that this crucial information is publicly reported and available.

To no small degree, our success as a nation depends on our colleges and universities preparing more young people of all backgrounds for challenges beyond their parents’ imaginations, because meeting these challenges is simply too great a responsibility to place on the shoulders of a narrow swath of fortunate students. 

If we are to achieve the goal of a better-educated populace and fulfill the dreams of millions of parents, we must identify, study, and replicate postsecondary success. College Results Online is a critical tool in that process.