Evaluating Predicted, Actual Graduation Rates at Regional Colleges

US News & World Report Education

MORSE CODE:  Inside the College Rankings

by Sam Flanigan

January 16, 2014

For the 2014 Best Colleges rankings, U.S. News calculated a predicted graduation rate for Regional Colleges and Regional Universities for the first time in the rankings’ 30-year history.

A predicted graduation rate has been calculated for the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges since the 1997 rankings.

The predicted graduation rate is an attempt to capture how well a college is able to support students so they are able to graduate with a degree and find where students succeed beyond what their test scores and other key factors might otherwise predict.

Schools with an actual graduation rate that exceeds the predicted rate are seen as boosting student achievement and, as a result, perform better in the rankings. Schools where students graduate at a lower rate than our estimate do not do as well in the rankings and fall short of expectations for their students.

U.S. News computes the predicted graduation rate, which makes up 7.5 percent of the Regional Universities and Regional Colleges rankings methodology, by creating models that use regression analysis. The models use characteristics of the fall 2006 entering cohort of students and characteristics of the colleges to predict what the graduation rate should be for that group of students.

Characteristics of the students include the average ACT and SAT test scores of the fall 2006 entering class, the proportion of those entering students who were in the top quarter of their high school class and the proportion of the student body that receives Pell Grants.

The colleges’ characteristics include whether the school is public or private and the average financial expenditures per student.

In the models, a relatively higher predicted graduation rate is calculated for schools where students have higher ACT and SAT test scores, where a greater proportion are in the top quarter of their high school class and which have higher average financial expenditures per student. Being a public school and having a relatively large proportion of the student body receiving Pell Grants results in a lower predicted graduation rate.

This type of analysis could be used in President Barack Obama’s college ratings plan. The plan’s intent is to “help students compare the value offered by colleges and encourage colleges to improve,” according to a release from the White House, by using measures such as graduation rates and the number of students receiving Pell Grants to identify colleges that do the most to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds and that are improving.

Overperformers

The two tables below show the Regional Universities and Regional Colleges where the difference between a school’s actual six-year graduation rate for the class that entered in fall 2006 was the highest when compared with the U.S. News predicted graduation rate for that school. These schools are considered overperforming.

[For more information and access to tables which include SUNY Cobleskill‘s listing as an Overperforming Regional College, please see full article at the US News & World Report web site. ]