College graduation rates: falling, failing

piece from a WSJ economics blog about a new report on college graduation rates:

What’s the difference between attending Bennington College in Vermont versus Trinity College in Connecticut?

They seem pretty similar: both are East Coast private schools, both are considered “highly competitive” and both cost about $50,000 a year with room and board. But students who picked Trinity are about 50% more likely to graduate within six years.


The report found that, on average, fewer than 60% of college students graduate within six years. But more importantly, there was a marked difference in graduation rates between schools that accept the same caliber of students.

The study cites a number of schools that are graduating less than 50% of students within 6 years, and many that are under one-quarter, which is pretty remarkable.  As recent posts in this blog and others have noted; the push for k-12 education to get students to college is less admirable than preparation to get them through college.

Particularly interesting is the comparable student cohorts – both in demographics and (presumably) in ability. While it is unlikely to unleash a claim that Trinity is “skimming” students, given the national reach there is probably some degree of self-selection (students with less drive or incentive to graduate may be more attracted to a specific school).

Depressingly, the data is particularly bad for both Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Institutions of High Hispanic Enrollment. The following is from the study itself:

While HBCUs represent just 3 percent of the nation’s institutions of higher learning, they graduate nearly 20 percent of African Americans who earn under-graduate degrees and more than 50 percent of African American professionals. Despite their importance, the seventy-eight HBCUs featured in this report are failing to graduate a large percentage of their student body. […]

HBCUs play an important role in our higher education system, and some appear to be doing anexcellent job of providing opportunities to their students by helping them earn a degree in a reasonable amount of time. For many African American men and women, however, choosing to attend an HBCU may be a risky investment, one with a less than 50 percent chance of producing a degree.


IHHEs—schools with undergraduate student bodies comprising at least 25 percent Hispanic students— tend to be located in states with large Hispanic populations, such as California, Texas, Florida, and New Mexico. Overall, the fifty-two IHHEs included in this report are less selective and have lower graduation rates than non-IHHEs, with roughly 96 percent ranking in the bottom three selectivity categories. Of these, 78 percent have graduation rates under 50 percent. None of the schools under the IHHE classification have a graduation rate that is higher than 60 percent.

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