Analytic Studies

A Primer for Understanding Graduation Rates at The California State University


Contents:

Introduction

Computational Formulas

Continuation Rates

Persistence Rates

Degrees Earned at Origin Campus

Identifying Cohorts

Alternative Graduation Rates

12-Year Observation Period

Time-To-Degree

JCAR Graduation Rates

Freshman vs. Transfer Rates

CSU vs. Peer Institutions

Number of Observations

Where to Find CSU Graduation Rates on the Web


A Primer for Understanding Graduation Rates at The California State University


Introduction

Since the full implementation of the U. S. Department of Educationís Graduation Rate Survey, a part of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), graduation rates for colleges and universities have become virtually ubiquitous. Prior to February 2002, comprehensive documentation for graduation rates was curiously absent from many institutional reports.This, however, was not the case at The California State University (CSU).The CSU has regularly published graduation rates for bachelorís degree seekers since May 1979.Thus the CSU has a long documented history about degree completion; and this history can provide an important backdrop for many of the results generated by the Graduation Rate Survey (see http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/).

The text below concludes with details on where to find historical CSU graduation rates.But before doing that, it reviews some basic facts about graduation rates in general and CSU rates in particular.It begins with a description of how graduation rates are calculated and then moves on to other important topics like how degree completers are identified and how student cohorts are determined.Next it recounts the various graduation rates that the CSU employs. Some are better suited for comparisons among CSU institutions; others are better suited for comparisons between CSU and non-CSU institutions.After that it provides Systemwide trend lines for CSU graduation rates, plus it answers some questions about how to compute time-to-degree and how time-to-degree has changed at the CSU since the mid 1970s.A brief discussion of separate graduation rates for full-time and part-time students follows, with a reminder on the distinctiveness of freshman cohorts versus cohorts of undergraduate transfers.The remaining substantive section cautions the reader to be wary of any rates based on very small cohorts of new students.

 

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Computational Formulas

Graduation rates are proportions where the denominator (N) represents the number of new students who share a common matriculation period, or start date; and the numerator (n) represents the number of graduates that emerged from the cohort of new students within a specified time. The computational expression for graduating during a specific year is:

formula 1

where the i-subscript represents the observation period. It is important to remember that a graduation rate is ambiguous to the reader if it is not accompanied by a precise time specification.

Traditionally graduation rates denote the number of bachelorís degrees awarded per 1,000 new students. Now it is very common to see graduation rates represented simply as percentages. Below are examples of how individual 4-, 5-, and 6-year graduation rates are computed for unique 12-month intervals and expressed as percentages.

Freshmen that began in fall 1996 as full-time students

 

Denominator

 

N = 28,039

 

Base = 100%

Graduated within four years of matriculation

 

Numerator 4

 

n4= 2,524

 

Rate = 9.0%

Graduated during the fifth year after matriculation

 

Numerator 5

 

n5= 5,832

 

Rate = 20.8%

Graduated during the sixth year after matriculation

 

Numerator 6

 

n6= 3,308

 

Rate = 11.8%

Here ni represents students who graduated from the same campus where they began their university careers. The single-year graduation rates clearly reveal that among CSU students the fifth year after matriculation is the modal year for attaining a degree during the observed six-year period. If we compute a cumulative graduation rate from the three individual rates, then the three rates listed above indicate that 41.6 percent of the students earned degrees in six years or less from their matriculation date (i.e., 9.0% + 20.8% + 11.8%). Thus the expression for computing cumulative graduation rates is:

formula 2

Most discussions about how many students earn bachelorís degrees focus on cumulative graduation rates; that is, rates that capture the proportion of graduates that attained degrees on or before the specified time. Below are examples of how 4-, 5-, and 6-year cumulative graduation rates are computed and expressed as percentages.

Freshmen that began in fall 1996 as full-time students

 

Denominator

 

N = 28,039

 

Base = 100%

Graduated within four years of matriculation

 

Numerator 4

 

n4= 2,524

 

Rate = 9.0%

Graduated within five years of matriculation

 

Numerator 5

 

n5= 8,356

 

Rate = 29.8%

Graduated within six years of matriculation

 

Numerator 6

 

n6= 11,664

 

Rate = 41.6%

Within the CSU, it is standard practice to report cumulative graduation rates. Technically speaking, the 4-year graduation rate for freshmen cohorts actually represents a cumulative rate, because it always includes the tiny percentage of students who attain degrees three years after entering the university.

 

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Continuation Rates

To compliment the graduation information, continuation rates are also routinely reported in CSU graduation reports. Continuation rates represent the proportion of a student cohort still enrolled at the same university as undergraduates for a specified year after matriculation. Below are examples of how to compute 1- and 2-year continuation rates.

Freshmen that began in fall 1996 as full-time students

 

Denominator

 

N = 28,039

 

Base = 100%

Still enrolled one year after matriculation

 

Numerator 1

 

n1= 2,524

 

Rate = 78.9%

Still enrolled two years after matriculation

 

Numerator 2

 

n2= 8,356

 

Rate = 65.9%

A review of historical continuation rates at the CSU consistently indicate that the largest single-year dip in re-enrollment occurs between the first and second year of study; and the next largest dip occurs between the second and third year of study. This is essentially true for either cohorts of new freshmen or cohorts of new undergraduate transfers. Interestingly, first-year attrition rates for new freshmen and new transfers are remarkably similar in magnitude.

Because graduation is not a viable outcome for the two-year interval after matriculation, attrition rates (i.e., the proportion leaving the university without a bachelorís degree) for this period are defined by the following equality:

Attrition Ratei = 100% Ė Continuation Ratei†††† (3)

So the two continuation rates listed above indicate that 21.9 percent of the cohort did not return one year after matriculation, and an additional 13.0 percent did not return two years after matriculation. Therefore, the total attrition for the two-year period was 34.1 percent. For intervals of three years or more, attrition rates for a specified time (i) are defined by the following equality:

Attrition Ratei = 100% Ė (Graduation Ratei + Continuation Ratei)(4)

where the graduation rate represents cumulative proportions.

 

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Persistence Rates

The convention at the CSU is to define persistence as the opposite of attrition. The equality is expressed as:

Persistence Ratei = 100% Ė Attrition Ratei †††† (5)

Substituting terms, the equality becomes:

Persistence Ratei = Graduation Ratei + Continuation Ratei††††††††††† (6)

where, again, the graduation rate represents cumulative proportions.So when reference is made to how many students are persisting to degree, the focus is on the proportion of students that have earned a degree or are still making progress toward degree attainment.

Source: 2002 Statistical Abstract, Table 140.

The above chart, illustrates the relationship between graduation rates and persistence rates over time for CSU first-time freshmen admitted as regular admits (i.e., the cohort used for CSU Accountability rates). Persistence is a descending function and graduation is ascending function and both eventually regress to the same point, the eventual graduation rate for the cohort.The noteworthy difference is that the persistence rate reaches its low point much sooner than the graduation rate reaches its peak point. In the case of CSU freshmen, the six-year persistence rate has historically been the trough of the persistence function, so it has served as an excellent early predictor of a cohortís eventual graduation rate.For example, in the chart above, the six-year persistence rate is 57 percent and the eventual graduation rate is 59 percent.

The use of the six-year persistence rate as a surrogate for a cohortís eventual graduation rates is also valid for regularly admitted, undergraduate transfers to the CSU that had upper division status at entry. In the chart below, for example, the six-year persistence rates is 69 percent and the observed, eventual graduation rate is 70 percent.

Source: 2002 Statistical Abstract, Table 140

The plotted lines of persistence and graduation for first-time freshmen also reveal that a small, but notable, proportion of students eventually attain degrees after six years has elapsed from their matriculation date.Thus reporting just a six-year graduation rate for freshmen cohorts at the CSU probably understates the true graduation rate by about 12-15 percentage points.On the other hand, a six-year graduation rate for upper division transfers at the CSU probably understates the true graduation rate by just 4-5 percentage points. The easiest remedy to the under-reporting of degree attainment associated with six-year intervals, of course, is the use of persistence rates.That is, adding the proportion for those still enrolled six-years after matriculation to the six-year graduation rate generates an accurate surrogate for the eventual graduation rate.

 

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Degrees Earned at Origin Campus

At the CSU, we have two alternatives for the graduation-rate numerator: 1) the number of graduates that emerge from a cohort with a degree from their origin campus or 2) the number of graduates that emerge from a cohort with a degree from any CSU campus. The overwhelming majority of CSU undergraduates earn degrees at the same campus where they began their CSU experience. But the small proportion of intra-system transfers that attain degrees at another CSU campus is noteworthy in size. For example, among regular admitted freshmen that began study in fall 1996, fully 52 percent earned degrees from their CSU origin campus and 7 percent earned them at a different CSU campus. The comparable figures for regularly admitted transfers from California community colleges are roughly 65 percent and 5 percent.Thus any CSU graduation rates that are based on only those students who earn degrees from their origin campus will understate the total number of degree recipients that are documented for an identified cohort within the CSU System.

 

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Identifying Cohorts

While the CSU employs just two alternative numerators, it employs a plethora of distinct definitions to define the graduation-rate denominator.That means the CSU, like most other institutions, identifies a host of different cohorts and then generates comparable graduation rates across the subgroups it has created.For instance, The CSU routinely generates gender-specific graduation rates, ethnic-specific graduation rates, plus graduation rates for the intersections where gender and ethnicity cross (e.g., Asian males, Asian females).And there are other identifiers that are used to define cohorts of new undergraduates.The CSU often displays separate graduation rates for students who gain admission as regular admits or special admits (e.g., see table 142b, 2003 Statistical Abstract).And it regularly posts graduation rates for new freshmen that began their study as full-time students (i.e., they attempted 12 or more units per term).The primary identifier for all cohorts is freshman vs. undergraduate transfer status.These two sectors within the pool of new undergraduates are never combined to form a single cohort.

 

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Alternative Graduation Rates

Since spring 2002, the CSU has generated numerators and denominators that yield six-year graduation rates and continuation rates according to definitions spelled out in the Graduation Rate Survey, administered by the National Center for Education Statistics.These implied rates, referred to as "IPEDS" rates, are restricted to first-time freshmen that attempted 12 or more units during their first term of study (the various CSU rates are posted at http://www.calstate.edu/as).On balance, about 93-95 percent of all new freshmen attempt 12 units in their first term, so the coverage associated with IPEDS rates is nearly complete.The numerators are limited to those that earned a degree at their campus of origin.The advantage of using IPEDS rates is that anyone can draw valid gross-comparisons between CSU rates and rates for institutions outside the CSU because everyone is using the same set of definitions.

Since spring 2002, the CSU has generated six-year graduation and continuation rates following the definitions spelled out by the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange.These rates, labeled "CSRDE" rates are generated for first-time freshmen and transfers from California community colleges that entered with at least 30 semester units of approved lower division coursework (see http://www.calstate.edu/as).The CSRDE rates for freshmen are identical to the implied IPEDS rates for freshman submitted to the National Center for Education Statistics.The advantage of using CSRDE rates is that anyone can draw valid gross-comparisons between CSU rates and rates for other institutions in the consortium because everyone is using the same set of definitions.

Since fall 2002, the CSU has generated six-year graduation and persistence rates following definitions spelled out by the CSU Chancellorís Office.These indicators, labeled "Accountability Rates," are generated for first-time freshmen and upper division transfers from California community colleges.In both cases, the basic cohort is restricted to those students who met the universityís regular criteria for admission. Because the cohorts differ slightly in definition, the Accountability rates and CSRDE rates differ slightly for corresponding time periods.The advantage of using Accountability rates is that anyone can draw valid gross-comparisons between CSU campuses because everyone is using the same set of definitions that identify the universityís primary target populations.On balance, Accountability Rates are slightly higher than CSRDE rates because the former exclude some high-risk students who gained entry via special admission criteria.

Fall 1975 represents the date when the CSU started regularly tracking cohorts of both first-time freshmen and undergraduate transfers.For roughly the first twenty years, the numerators for the rates included those that graduated at their origin campus plus those that graduated at another CSU.Since the mid -1990s, separate rates have been posted for those that graduated at their origin campus and those that graduated at another CSU. The chief value of these rates is the historical continuity.The rates are based on cohorts that span three decades.

The availability of alternative graduation rates for CSU students requires the reader to be diligent about knowing how the cohort was defined for the observed metric.The availability of alternative graduation rates for CSU students, however, never really distorts the general pattern of graduation behavior at the university.The chart below, for example, displays separate freshman rates for the three principal alternatives employed most often by the CSU.Here all three cohorts represent students that entered the CSU in fall 1995 and earned degrees at their origin campus.Each stacked column essentially suggests the same story: about 50 percent of new freshmen eventually earn degrees at their campus of origin, most of the degrees are attained within 6 years after matriculation, and the proportion of students who take more than 6 years to attain a degrees is about the same as the proportion that attain a degree in 4 years of study.

Source: Fall 1995 Cohort of First-Time Freshmen.

The main reason why 4 years is not the modal category for when CSU freshmen eventually attain their degrees is because only about one fourth of them attempt enough units each term to complete a degree program in 4 years (i.e., 15 units).Nearly 70 percent of them assume an average course load over their academic career that translates into either a 5-year or six-year time-to-degree. A secondary reason why 4 years is not the modal category for graduation is that some CSU degree programs require students to attempt more that 15 semester units if they are to graduate in 4 years (e.g., engineering).A tertiary reason is that not all students maintain continuous enrollment.In other words, some students leave the university for one or more terms during an academic year, and then return to the university to resume their progress toward degree completion.

Source: Fall 1995 Cohort of Regularly Admitted First-Time Freshmen.

The finding that most new CSU freshmen do not earn a degree in 4 years is certainly not a red flag signaling that something has dramatically changed.Since the establishment of the current CSU information system, fall 1973, data analysis has almost always identified the fifth year after matriculation as the modal 12-month period for attaining a bachelorís degree.The figure above charts IPEDS defined graduation rates by year for two different cohorts that entered the CSU, where the time interval between the two matriculation dates is 20 years.In both instances, the four-year marker represents far fewer students than the five-year maker.

Another notable finding the above chart suggests is that the CSU graduation rate for incoming freshmen has increased noticeably over the 20-year period denoted by the two cohorts.Other data confirm the rate difference between the 1975 and 1995 freshmen represents real change.For instance, annual persistence rates from fall 1975 onward suggest a sustained gradual improvement in the eventual graduation rates for cohorts of both freshmen and California community college transfers.

The chart below displays historical five-year persistence rates for all students who entered the CSU as either first-time freshmen or California community college transfers, where the rates imply program completion at any CSU campus.Like six-year persistence rates, they are reliable indicators of eventual graduation rates.In all, the chart indicates a 16 percentage-point gain in the eventual graduation rate for freshmen cohorts and an 18 percentage-point gain in the eventual graduation rates for California community college transfers between fall 1975 new undergraduates and fall 1997 new undergraduates.In other words, the rate for both groups annually grew by an average of about 1.3 percentage points over the 22-year period.

Source: 2003 Statistical Abstract, Tables 143a and 143b.

 

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12-Year Observation Period

Every year the CSU Statistical Abstract lists updated graduation outcomes that span 12 years for separate cohorts of regularly admitted first-time freshmen and regularly admitted California community college transfers.As much of the data already presented herein indicate, the vast majority of CSU bachelorís degrees are attained four to six years after matriculation.So it would be a momentous error to imply from the 12-year observation period that the average or modal time-to-degree for CSU students is 12 years.The significance of the 12-years period is that it represents the time interval that captures 98 percent of all degrees conferred to new freshman cohorts and 99 percent of all degrees conferred to new undergraduate cohorts.Analyzing the difference between matriculation dates and graduation dates from official degree records generated these two findings.

The two pie charts below summarize enrollment and graduation outcomes observed during a 12-year interval for regularly admitted students who entered the CSU as freshman or upper division transfers from California community colleges (each cohort matriculated in fall 1988).The pie charts clearly indicate that attrition for the freshman cohort was about the 30 percent; and attrition for the transfer was cohort was roughly 30 percent.Thus the majority of new CSU undergraduates received CSU baccalaureates. Nearly 59 percent of the freshmen received bachelorís degrees and just over 61 percent of the transfers did the same. Moreover, the charts illustrate that the majority of CSU freshmen that attained baccalaureates took six years or less to complete their academic programs (43.9 % vs. 14.9%). The charts also show that a small, but substantial, number of CSU undergraduates moved on to other CSU campuses before they earned their degrees.For freshmen, the proportion was 7.3 percent (i.e., 4.1% +3.2%); and for upper division transfers, the proportion was 4.6 percent (i.e., 3.5% and 1.1%).Lastly, the charts indicate that about one percent of any incoming class of undergraduate will still be pursuing their degree objective 12 years after matriculation.

Source: 2002 Statistical Abstract, Table 140.

 

Source: 2002 Statistical Abstract, Table 140.

The two pie charts above are not comprehensive in documenting all possible college outcomes.Those students who make up the "left without a degree" segment are not homogeneous; some have transferred to institutions outside the CSU System.

 

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Time-To-Degree

Observers of student outcomes are not just interested in what proportion of new students attain bachelorís degrees; they also want to know how long it took students to complete the degrees requirements.As we have seen, time-specific graduation rates can denote some things about when cohorts of students complete their studies.But using graduation rates to handle all inquiries regarding time-to-degree can be awkward.Questions about how long graduates take to attain their bachelorís degrees are best answered by cohort data that are restricted to just degree recipients.After non-graduates are excluded, the percentage distribution representing when degrees are awarded can be computed by dividing the number of degrees conferred for discrete intervals by the total number of degree completers.In every case, the percentage distribution of degree holders by date of completion should sum to 100 percent.The chart below displays such a percentage distribution for both CSU freshmen and CSU undergraduate transfers that came from California community colleges.

Source: 2002 Statistical Abstract, Table 140

The chart illustrates that the modal categories for when undergraduates earn degrees is the third year for transfers and the fifth year for freshmen.The displayed percentages also could be used to generate measures of average time-to degree for each group. If the degrees were dispersed equally across the college year, the calculating formula for the average would be:

formula 7

where p represents the percentage for i-year and Xi-1 represents the preceding i-year after matriculation.Thus the quantity Xi-1 + 0.5 symbolizes the midpoint for each 12-month interval. Because most CSU degrees are conferred in spring the following expression is a better estimate of the average time to degree at the CSU:

formula 8

Using the above expression yields a freshman average of 5.6 years and a transfer average of 3.4 years.An audit of degree records for the comparable time period indicates that the exact averages were 5.7 years and 3.6 years.

The chart below lists the cumulative percentages for degrees awarded by year for regularly admitted undergraduates.The plots indicate that 80 percent of new transfers that earn a degree do so in 4 years or less; and nearly 80 percent of new freshmen that earn a degree do so in 6 years or less.The plots also indicate that the median time-to-degree for transfers is 3 years and the median time-to-degree for freshmen is 5 years.

Source: 2002 Statistical Abstract, Table 140

Since 1975-76, the average time-to-degree among degree recipients for a college year has shifted upward for CSU undergraduates. When you look at averages generated by subtracting the matriculation date from the graduate date, the increase has been one calendar year for freshmen, from 4.6 to 5.6 years; and, the increase has been about half of a calendar year for undergraduate transfers, from 2.9 to 3.5 years.However, most of the net change appears to have occurred by the end of the 1984-85 college year.Since the end of the 1984-85 college year, average time-to-degree has remained more or less stable.For example, among those students who received bachelorís degrees in 2002-03, the averages for freshmen and undergraduate transfers were 5.6 and 3.5 years, respectively.The chart below illustrates how time-to-degree crept up for new graduates from 1975-76 to 1984-85, and then fluctuated very little thereafter.

Clearly, all the measures for time-to-degree that can be derived from CSU data indicate that recent graduates on average took longer to complete their academic programs than their peers that graduated in 1975-76. But perhaps the more salient fact is that for the last 20 years, the averages for time-to-degree among new freshmen and new undergraduate transfers have essentially remained unchanged. The other salient fact is contextual. Since 1975-76, graduation rates have been moving upwards for both new freshmen and new undergraduate transfers. Therefore increased time-to-degree is not necessarily associated with declining graduation rates.

 

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JCAR Graduation Rates

In response to the federal mandate to report aggregate graduate rates for cohorts of college first-time freshmen, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities plus the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULG) convened the Joint Committee on Accountability Reporting (JCAR) to explore complimentary rates that took into account that all students do not pursue degree completion at the same pace.The emergence of JCAR reflected the sentiments of many that no one single graduation rate could reflect all the facets of degree completion on a campus.The big issue was prominence of non-traditional students at many colleges and universities.The feeling was that the six-year requirement for generating IPEDS rates was appropriate for most traditional students but inappropriate for many non-traditional students.What the Committee came up was a methodology that sorts students into three groups according to their enrollment behavior during the four-year period following matriculation; thus, it was a methodology that recognized student variability within a cohort of undergraduate students.

Source: Fall 1995 Cohort of Regularly Admitted First-Time Freshmen.

The methodology begins with identifying a cohort of first-time freshmen that attempted at least 15 semester units in their first term.The first group that is identified represents those students who, on average, attempted credit hours at a rate needed to complete the degree in catalog award time (e.g., four years for four-year programs). The group is referred to as catalog load students (CLS).For the most part, that means CLS students took 15 semester units or more each term they were enrolled in during the four-year period following matriculation. In the chart above, just 24 percent of the observed CSU first-time freshmen (in this case, regular admits) attempted course-work at this pace. An additional 69 percent of the CSU freshmen were classified as extended load students (ELS); that is, those student that took fewer units per term than the amount inferred by the catalog award time, and thus were on track to complete their program in 4.1 to 6.0 years.The last segment of the freshmen cohort were classified as partial load students (PLS)óor students who were on pace to complete their program in more than six years.About seven percent of the observed CSU freshmen cohort fell into that category.So, again, most CSU students adopt enrollment patterns associated with graduating in 5 or 6 years after matriculation.

Source: Fall 1995 Cohort of Regularly Admitted First-Time Freshmen.

As might be expected, the ability to attempt 15 semester units or more in each term of enrollment is an expression of educational commitment. Students consistently taking 15 units do not adjust their unit-loads downward to compensate for labor force commitments or other outside obligations. Nor do they adjust their unit-loads downward so they can focus on fewer courses that maybe very challenging. So it is not surprising that taking units loads that are in concert with the catalog award time is associated with higher eventual graduation rates. The percentages in the above chart indicate that at the CSU ELS students about twice as likely as PLS student to attain baccalaureates; and CLS students are almost three times as likely as PLS student to attain baccalaureates.

As the chart below illustrates, unit-loads are strongly associated with when students graduate. At the catalog award time (four years for four-year programs), 44 percent of the CLS first-time freshmen completers received degrees. At the extended award time, and additional 51% of the CLS completers attained degrees within the six year limit of the extended load interval. For ELS students, just 5 percent of the completers earned degrees in 4 years, but 71 percent were awarded degrees during the extended load period. PLS completers did not receive degrees at catalog award time and only 20 percent were awarded degrees during the extended interval; thus the overwhelming majority receive attain their degrees more than six years after matriculation.

Source: Fall 1995 Cohort of Regularly Admitted First-Time Freshmen.

As the chart above illustrates, unit-loads are strongly associated with the time frame for student graduation. At the catalog award time (four years for four-year programs), 44 percent of the CLS first-time freshmen completers received degrees. At the extended award time, and additional 51% of the CLS completers attained degrees within the six year limit of the extended load interval. For ELS students, just 5 percent of the completers earned degrees in 4 years, but 71 percent were awarded degrees during the extended load period. PLS completers did not receive degrees at catalog award time and only 20 percent were awarded degrees during the extended interval; thus the overwhelming majority attains their degrees more than six years after matriculation.

 

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Freshman vs. Transfer Rates

One graduation-rate question many new users like to answer is: which undergraduate subgroup has higher graduation rates, new first-time freshmen or new undergraduate transfers.The basic finding, of course, is essentially the same for every cohort-based analysis: the graduation rate for transfers is higher.But how telling are any of the observed differences?The cohort with the higher rates (i.e., new transfers) only has to complete about 60-80 semesters units to earn a CSU degree while the cohort with the lower rates (i.e., new freshmen) has to complete about 120-140 semester units.Common sense almost suggests that transfers should have the higher rates.Within the CSU, the more relevant question is: do transfers that complete the lower division curriculum at community colleges attain bachelor's degrees at the CSU at more or less the same proportion as continuing students who complete the lower division curriculum at the CSU?

The document, "How to Compare Persistence Rates Between Community College Transfers and First-Time Freshmen," displays several statistical comparisons between transfers and first-time freshmen (or natives) that complete the lower division curriculum at the CSU.The findings indicate the proportions are close in magnitude, but that natives have the slightly higher rates.The reason the native rates are higher is because transfers suffer very large attrition during their first year of study at the CSU.Therefore, undergraduate transfers are not immune to transitional problems as they move from one institution to another.For more information on this topic, please go to the following web site: http://www.asd.calstate.edu/gradrates/comparison_ftf_ccct.shtml

 

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CSU vs. Peer Institutions

The CSRDE database allows member institutions to compare their continuation and graduation rates with peer institutions (i.e., schools with similar selection criteria). For the CSU, peer institutions represent a mix of mostly moderately selective schools (SAT I = 990-1044) plus a few less selective schools (SAT I <990). New CSU first-time, full-time freshmen appear to fare better than comparable students at similar schools. A comparison of the one-year continuation rate, for example freshmen indicates that the CSU is 10 percentage-points higher than peer institutions (i.e., a combination of Less Selective and Moderately Selective schools). The CSU advantage for the six-year graduation rate is about three percentage-points.

graph showing higher continuation rates than peers

CSU transfers also appear to fare a little better than comparable students at similar schools. The CSU advantage is three percentage points for both the one-year continuation rate and the six-year graduation rate.

graph showing higher transfer rates than peers

 

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Number of Observations

All the graduation rates are based on population figures, not sample figures; so the statistical precision of each estimate, for the most part, is a non-issue.The reader, however, should pay some attention to the size of the cohort used to generate each rate.The concern should be the stability of each rate.When rates are based on the actions of a small number of students, then a small change in the number of observed events can produce a big incremental change in the rate.

The graph below illustrates the impact of a single dropout on graduation rates for cohorts of varying size. For cohorts of less than 20 students, the affect of one dropout is substantial.But once a cohort size starts to exceed 60 students, then one dropout starts to equate more or less to a decline of just one percentage point.

When it comes to the Systemwide graduation rate for cohorts of freshman or undergraduate transfers, the number of observations is in the tens of thousands.This is also true for Systemwide rates for males and females. Ethnic-specific rates for American Indians and Pacific Islanders at the System level are usually based on more than 150 students; and the remaining ethnic groups are based on more than 1,000 observations.For the majority of campus-specific rates, the cohort sizes exceed one thousand students; and for the smaller campuses, the cohort size is usually between 400 and 999 observations.So, on balance, these more global rates rarely, if ever, reflect statistics based on small numbers.It is a different story, however, when it comes to ethnic-specific rates that also consider campus, gender, or declared major.The size for some of these subgroups can be quite small.

 

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Where to Find CSU Graduation Rates on the Web

  1. Systemwide and campus-specific CSRDE rates for new freshmen, community college transfers, and new freshmen with declared majors in science, technology, and math can be found at:

http://www.asd.calstate.edu/csrde/index.shtml

  1. Systemwide and campus-specific Accountability rates for new freshmen and community college transfers can be found at:

http://www.asd.calstate.edu/accountability/

  1. Historical Systemwide graduation rates for new freshmen and community college transfers can be found in editions of the Statistical Abstract.The various rate tables are posted in Section V (Education Access and Outcomes).The content has increased over time, but the mainstays are one-year continuation rates over time and 5-year rates over time for graduation, continuation, and persistence.The 5-year persistence rates have essentially the same qualities as 6-year persistence rates.This is the place where you will find selected rate comparisons for regular and special admit students.Most of the editions also provide a 12-year profile for regularly admitted cohorts of first-time freshmen and California community college transfers.The introduction to Section V usually explains how to interpret the various rates.Viewable and downloadable editions can be found at:

http://www.calstate.edu/as/abstract.shtml

The exact locations of the rate tables posted on the web, as of this date, are as follows:

Edition Section Pages Edition Section Pages
1992-93 V 262-263 1998-99 V 203-205
1993-94 V 176-178 1999-00 V 206-209
1994-95 V 188-190 2000-01 V 219-223
1995-96 V 200-202 2001-02 V 218-223
1996-97 V 203-205 2002-03 V 229-233
1997-98 V 203-205 2003-04 V 227-231

 

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Prepared by:
Philip Garcia
Director of Analytic Studies
Office of the Chancellor
The California State University


Content Contacts:
wherron@calstate.edu
ASD Web Manager:
llimbeek@calstate.edu
Technical Contact:
webmaster@calstate.edu


Last Updated: September 14, 2009