NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 14, 2004

America's colleges and universities have a serious and deep-rooted problem: far too many students who enter college fail to get a degree. Even among the students most likely to succeed -- those who begin their college career as full-time freshmen in four-year colleges and universities -- only six out of every ten, on average, get a B.A. within six years. This translates into over half a million collegians every year, a group disproportionately made up of low-income and minority students, who fall short of acquiring the credentials, skills and knowledge they seek., according to a report from the Education Trust in Washington, DC.

Researchers also found:

  • Many higher education institutions lose over one out of every four students during the freshman year.
  • Less than half of African-American and Latino students graduate within six years, and about 54 percent of low-income students graduate within that time.
  • The graduation gap between African-American and white students is over 10 percentage points, and about one-fourth of colleges report a gap of 20 or more percentage points.

Senior policy analyst Kevin Carey of the Education Trust notes that while many assume that graduation rates are determined mainly by the student body, some colleges have been quite successful in improving their graduation rates.

  • Binghampton University's six-year graduation rate is 79 percent; with 77 percent of their African-American students graduating within six years.
  • The University of Ohio boasts a graduation rate of 81 percent, compared with the median rate of 68 percent among comparable institutions.

Carey suggests that institutions can improve their graduation rates through tracking student progress and exposing students to frequent contact with professors, strategies that successful colleges have used.

Source: Kevin Carey, "A Matter of Degrees: Improving Graduation Rates in Four-Year Colleges and Universities," Education Trust, May 2004.


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