Comparing Colleges' Graduation Rates: The Importance of Adjusting for Student Characteristics

Uses longitudinal data systems in Connecticut and Virginia to demonstrate how student-level data can be used to measure graduation rates that compare each institution’s students with demographically similar students around the state. Student demographics and academic preparation explain a considerable amount of the differences in six-year graduation rates between institutions. These results mean state policymakers should look beyond commonly used unadjusted metrics when they want to assess institutional quality. This is especially true when outcomes vary significantly across subgroups or when student characteristics vary significantly across colleges.

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