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Web Tool Allows Search of College Graduation Rates

Web Tool Allows Search of College Graduation Rates

The Education Trust released an interactive Web tool last month and two reports that challenge the conventional wisdom about college graduation rates.

The Web tool, College Results Online, points to glaring disparities in college completion among similar schools.

The online tool, found at allows users to select any four-year public or private nonprofit college or university in the country and see how its graduation rates compare with similar institutions that serve similar student populations. It also allows users to examine graduation rates broken down by students’ race, ethnicity and gender. This information, say Education Trust officials, reveals significant gaps in graduation rates between White students and students of color at most colleges and universities.

The median college graduation gap between Black and White students, says Kati Haycock, director of Education Trust, is approximately 11 to 12 percent. Closing the gap would produce an additional 10,000 African-American college graduates a year, 100,000 over a decade, she adds.

The Education Trust used its new online tool to identify some of the schools that have increased overall graduation rates, that graduate minority students at nearly the same rates as White students and that consistently outperform similar schools.

“Some colleges and universities have put student success at the heart of their missions and are making a difference in the lives of their students,” Haycock says.

One of those schools is Alcorn State University in Itta Benna, Miss.

With 90 percent of its students on financial aid and located in one of the poorest parts of Mississippi, the historically Black university has improved its graduation rates by focusing on incoming freshmen. Prior to establishing the “College of Excellence” for freshmen and sophomores, Dr. Melvin Williams, vice president for academic affairs at Alcorn State, says they were retaining less than 50 percent of their freshmen.

Finding those rates unacceptable, Alcorn State assigned all entering students faculty advisors and decided to address the issue of remediation up front.

“If we admit students with deficiencies, we have a responsibility to help students along,” Williams says.

Alcorn State was spending a lot of money on recruiting students, but was not seeing the pay off, as students were not graduating. They then decided to put more resources into retention efforts. Consequently, their freshman to sophomore retention rate increased from 47 percent to 75 percent.

“It was probably the best $200,000 we have ever spent,” Williams says.

“For far too long, we have blamed low graduation rates only on the students,” says Kevin Carey, director of policy research at the Education Trust. “This sort of thinking has led us to believe that there is nothing that colleges and universities could do to help more students graduate.”

In addition, the Education Trust released two reports. The first, “One Step from the Finish Line: Higher College-Graduation Rates are Within Our Reach,” explains College Results Online, guides readers on how to use it and highlights the strategies of some successful colleges and universities. The second report, “Choosing to Improve: Voices from Colleges and Universities with Better Graduation Rates,” offers a more detailed examination of the practices of these schools and outlines a growing body of research that indicates that what schools do matters a great deal.

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