Academic journal article Business Education & Accreditation

Graduation Rates at U.S. Colleges and Universities: A Large Data Set Analysis

Academic journal article Business Education & Accreditation

Graduation Rates at U.S. Colleges and Universities: A Large Data Set Analysis

Article excerpt


This paper compiles data from a half a dozen different sources to examine the relative impact various factors have on graduation rates. Research finds that faculty salaries positively impact rates, public schools have lower graduation rates and liberal arts colleges, research and masters' universities have higher rates than comprehensive. Overall, the existence of learning communities and teaching centers at institutions of higher learning does not improve graduation rates. However, if the type of school is taken into consideration; the existence of learning communities does improve graduation rates at comprehensive universities but does not have any impact on research and masters universities or liberal arts colleges. This research suggests that when implementing programs aimed at improving graduation rates different types of colleges and universities need to be selective in what they choose.

JEL: A20, A22, Z18

KEYWORDS: Graduation Rates, Colleges, Universities


Concerns about the cost of college, the lack of students entering the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and growing debt among students appears in the news daily. At, or near, the top of the problems facing higher education is the number of students who do not finish college. Noting that 44 percent of entering students do not graduate from college, Bowen (2009) is one of many who argues that the United States will lose its competitive advantage in the world if this is not addressed. In 2011, the Obama administration set up a system of grants for states to help them improve college graduation rates. The goal is to have the U.S. have the highest college completion rates in the world by 2020 (Lewin, 201 1). Entering first year students are more diverse, with a higher number of Hispanic, black, part-time, older, low income and other minorities entering college. Yet, the graduation rate for these populations lags behind more well-to-do white population. (CHE, 201 112). While improving graduation rates may be a priority for the government and other stakeholders, it has not improved significantly over the past few decades.

There has been an enormous amount of research aimed at explaining and trying to improve graduation rates at U.S. colleges and universities. Some of it has been on developing theories of student retention and how successful particular programs colleges implement are. Other research has focused on specific students such as athletes and how the implementation of a new program may improve graduation rates College Student Retention, 2005). This research adds to the body of literature by examining graduation rates from a broader perspective. Instead of looking at a particular college, small group of students or a certain program, it uses a large data set examining close to 1,000 different schools. It then isolates the impact of variables, such as faculty salaries, learning communities and other factors that influence graduation rates to examine their marginal impact.

On the following pages a review of some of the literature on the subject is covered. Then a description of the data is provided, citing the different sources. The methodology used and the results from the econometrics is discussed. Different variables likely have more or less influence on graduation rates at different types of schools. For example, a learning community may improve graduation rates at larger research universities than at smaller liberal arts colleges. Thus, this research addresses the interaction of combinations of variables on graduation rates. The conclusion with recommendations for future research completes this paper.


Research pertaining to graduation rates at U.S. colleges and universities covers a broad spectrum of topics. A substantial amount of literature explores programs and policies that schools have implemented or could pursue that increases retention rates. …

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