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College Graduation Rates Concern Parents of Prospective Applicants

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College graduation rates have always been important to academic officials and politicians, but the percentage of students who actually earn a degree from a particular college or university within six years is gaining significance among parents of prospective applicants, according to a report on a study released January 12, 2011.

The Obama administration wants the United States to greatly increase the number of adults with postsecondary degrees by 2020, but students and parents are realizing that enrolling in classes and beginning the path to a degree is not enough—-earning a degree is the ultimate goal. Although many colleges and universities admit students with similar backgrounds and academic abilities, graduation rates can vary drastically from school to school.

College Graduation Rates Affect Parents’ Choices

Filling in the Blanks: How Information Can Affect Choice in Higher Education provides the results of a survey developed by Andrew P. Kelly, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and Mark Schneider, a visiting AEI scholar.

In the experiment conducted by the researchers, one group of parents received basic facts about two public colleges in their state, including cost and selectivity. A second group of parents received the same information, along with the graduation rates for each institution.

Providing graduation-rate information increased the likelihood that parents would choose the college with the higher graduation rate by about fifteen percentage points, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The information had a greater impact on parents with less education, lower incomes and little knowledge of the college application process. Parents with higher incomes that were better-informed about applying to colleges were less likely to change their college preferences based on graduation rates.

Colleges Should Make Graduation Rates Available on Financial Aid Info

“It’s heartening, to some extent, that these findings are the way that they are. The college-completion agenda is not about high-achieving students with well-off parents. It’s about guiding students who typically lag behind,” Kelly told the Chronicle.

Kelly and Schneider believe that the study’s results show that parents can and will evaluate colleges and universities and choose higher-performing ones if they have access to indicators of college performance. One suggestion is for the Department of Education to require all colleges that participate in federal student aid programs to clearly report their graduation and retention rates on all admissions and financial aid correspondence with students.

College graduation and retention rates are not secret, but many parents do not know where to find them. As a result, hundreds of thousands of students enroll in schools where they will fail to make it through their first year, Kelly and Schneider explain in an AOL News Opinion special.

The non-profit College Board also suggests that one of the best ways to judge a college’s quality and the satisfaction of its students is to find out the school’s retention rate—the percentage of students who return after the first year—as well as the percentage of entering students who stay until graduation.

College Retention Rates Vary at Two-Year and Four-Year Schools

An ACT study released January 20, 2011 reports that college retention rates are improving at two-year schools while declining at four-year schools. Retention rates at two-year schools have risen to their highest level in 27 years of research. The retention rate at four-year private colleges has dropped to its lowest level in that same time period.

Overall, college retention rates remain relatively stable. Two-thirds of all first-year students at two-year and four-year colleges returned for their second year of school in 2010, compared to 68 percent in 2005 and 66 percent last year.

Wes Habley, ACT’s principal associate, has been conducting analyses of college retention data for the non-profit organization since 1985. “With many jobs gone and fewer new jobs available, high school graduates and newly unemployed workers may be seeking the fastest, least expensive route to gainful employment,” he said. “Two-year colleges tend to be less costly than four-year schools and offer programs that provide entry into specific jobs. Those factors may increase students’ motivation and incentive to come back for their second year.”

The data was gathered in ACT’s annual survey of more than 2,500 two-year and baccalaureate colleges and universities across the country.

10 Happiest Colleges in the Country

College retention and graduation rates indicate a school’s quality and the satisfaction of its students, and The Daily Beast has compiled a gallery of the 100 Happiest Colleges in the Country based on campus dining, campus housing, nightlife, average student debt at graduation, freshman retention rate, total clubs and organizations, and percentage of sunny days. Not exactly the most scientific calculation, but fun nonetheless. (Apparently California is home to a lot of happy college students!)

The top 10 happiest colleges in the country are listed below, and you can see the Daily Beast’s complete list here.

1. Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California: Freshman Retention Rate 96%

2. Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Freshman Retention Rate 97.2%

3. Pomona College in Claremont, California: Freshman Retention Rate 98.5%

4. Rice University in Houston, Texas: Freshman Retention Rate 96.8%

5. Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California: Freshman Retention Rate 94.8%

6. Scripps College in Claremont, California: Freshman Retention Rate 91.8%

7. Stanford University in Stanford, California: Freshman Retention Rate 98%

8. California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California: Freshman Retention Rate 97.8%

9. Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut: Freshman Retention Rate 98.8%

10. Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine: Freshman Retention Rate 97.8%


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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