Study: Economic Factors Influence College Graduation Rates

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Money talks. It’s an old adage, but it rings true even when it comes to college graduation rates.

A new study from Oregon State University found that both the socioeconomic status of a college’s student body and the school’s own revenue and expenditures are significant predictors in whether first-time students will complete their degree and graduate within six years.

Researchers focused solely on four-year broad access institutions, which are colleges and universities that accept 80 percent or more of their applicants.

“For those students, resources really matter, in a way that is different from the population as a whole,” Gloria Crisp, the study’s lead author, said. “That finding is consistent with the persistent inequities in college completion rates for these underserved populations.”

Crisp along with her co-authors, Erin Doran of Iowa State University and Nicole Alia Salis Reyes of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, used publicly available student data for more than 400 broad access institutions for the 2008-09 school year and the 2014-15 school year to show that students attending schools with more resources are more likely to complete their degrees. Similarly, the socioeconomic status of a college’s students were found to affect the institution’s graduation rate.

This new study is believed to be the first to look at graduation rates without including elite colleges and universities in the mix. Crisp said this is an important distinction and makes the study’s findings even more relevant.

“The elite universities are considered the best even though they predominately serve the most academically prepared students who are likely to successful wherever they enroll,” Crisp said.

“There’s a disconnect between the expectations of those top tier schools, which garner much of the attention, and the broad access institutions, which are serving students who may not be academically prepared for college work upon entering college and are underserved throughout the K-20 educational system including low-income, African American and Latina/o students. Holding them to the same standard doesn’t work.”

Read the full report in the Research in Higher Education journal.

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at adobson@nacacnet.org.

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