A little clarity can be a very interesting thing.
When a research group started tracking what happens to Chicago’s public school graduates after they enter college, it came upon a startling and dispiriting finding: the graduation rates at two of the city’s four-year public universities were among the worst in the country. At Northeastern Illinois University, a tidy commuter campus on the North Side of Chicago, only 17 percent of students who enroll as full-time freshmen graduate within six years, according to data collected by the federal Department of Education. At Chicago State University on the South Side, the overall graduation rate is 16 percent.
As dismal as those rates seem, the universities are not unique. About 50 colleges across the country have a six-year graduation rate below 20 percent, according to the Education Trust, a nonprofit research group. Many of the institutions serve low-income and minority students. Such numbers have prompted a fierce debate here — and in national education circles — about who is to blame for the results, whether they are acceptable for nontraditional students, and how universities should be held accountable if the vast majority of students do not graduate.
“If you’re accepting a child into your institution, don’t you have the responsibility to make sure they graduate?” asked Melissa Roderick, the co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which produced the study. “I think people had absolutely no idea that our local colleges were running graduation rates like that,” Dr. Roderick said. “I don’t think we have any high school in the city that has graduation rates like these colleges.”
Northeastern’s results were particularly low among African-Americans, with only 8 percent of entering full-time freshmen earning degrees within six years.
The report, which was released last spring, examined students who graduated from Chicago public schools in 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2003. It also cited federal statistics showing that only 4 percent of all African-American students at Northeastern Illinois graduated within six years. The most recent federal data, released in August, shows the figure to be 8 percent for freshmen who entered in 1999 and would have graduated by 2005.
A federal commission that examined the future of American higher education recommended in August that colleges and universities take more responsibility for ensuring that students complete their education. Charles Miller, the commission chairman, said that if graduation rates were more readily available, universities would be forced to pay more attention to them. “Universities in America rank themselves on many factors, but graduation rates aren’t even in the mix,” Mr. Miller said. “They don’t talk about it.”
Others say policy makers are to blame for failing to take action against public universities or administrators if most of their students fail to earn a degree. “Most colleges aren’t held accountable in any way for their graduation rate,” said Gary Orfield, a Harvard professor of education and social policy at the Graduate School of Education. “We treat college as if the right to enroll is enough, and just ignore everything else.” [...]
Focusing purely on Northeastern Illinois and Chicago State Universities, let's just make one small point, shall we? Let's shall. Both universities are small commuter colleges that draw almost exclusively from the Chicago public schools system. CPS is notorious for its overall poor quality of student preparation. Some students come out of it pretty well; others go to high schools so overcrowded that the former principals try to turn students away, or in desperately poor neighborhoods, or which are sincerely underfunded or (more usually) all of the above. Thus, their initial preparation isn't going to be the best, through no fault of their own, and the college is going to have to cope with these underprepared students. Moreover, as noted in the article, both institutions draw largely nontraditional, low-income and minority students. If you only go to college when and how you can afford it, a six year graduation rate isn't going to show you how they're really doing.
More clarity: (PDF link) From High School to the Future: A first look at Chicago Public School graduates' college enrollment, college preparation, and graduation from four-year colleges by Melissa Roderick, Jenny Nagaoka, and Elaine Allensworth et al., is the report done on this topic from which the Times drew its article. On page 75 of the report, they compare graduation rates for both former Chicago Public School students and others at several state universities. The striking thing is that at only five of the 12 institutions examined is the graduation rate for CPS students not sharply lower than the instition at large. Of those five, Chicago State simply has a low rate overall (and CPS students likely forming the plurality of its students, I'd wager), and the others -- the Universities of Illinois at Chicago and at Urbana-Champaign, Loyola, and Roosevelt -- have both higher admissions standards, and a higher cost threshhold. Simply put, UIC, UIUC, Loyola and Roosevelt are drawing the cream of the CPS crop. The other universities are struggling with students who were good enough to get into college, but not necessarily the best students. That can actually be seen in the table on page 81, with the uncapped GPA. The institutions with low graduation rates are grouped at the bottom; the institutions with higher graduation rates at the top. (That said, it would be fascinating to see what's going on at Roosevelt University. The six-year graduation rate overall is 25% ... but the same graduation rate for former CPS students is 41%. In other words, somehow, CPS students are actually raising the average; without them, Roosevelt's overall rate would likely be on a par with Northeastern Illinois and Chicago State. However, since Roosevelt is a private university, agitating about their graduation rate doesn't get you the glossy headlines.)Posted by iain at September 15, 2006 05:25 PM