A Primer for Understanding Graduation Rates at The
California State University
Introduction
Since the full implementation of the U.
S. Department of Education’s 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 bachelor’s 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 nonCSU institutions.After that it provides Systemwide trend
lines for CSU graduation rates, plus it answers some questions about how to
compute timetodegree and how timetodegree has changed at the CSU since the
mid 1970s.A brief discussion of
separate graduation rates for fulltime and parttime 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:
where the isubscript
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 bachelor’s 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 6year
graduation rates are computed for unique 12month intervals and expressed as
percentages.
Freshmen
that began in fall 1996 as fulltime students

Denominator

N = 28,039

Base = 100%

Graduated
within four years of matriculation

Numerator 4

n_{4}=
2,524

Rate = 9.0%

Graduated
during the fifth year after matriculation

Numerator 5

n_{5}=
5,832

Rate = 20.8%

Graduated
during the sixth year after matriculation

Numerator 6

n_{6}=
3,308

Rate = 11.8%

Here n_{i}
represents students who graduated from the same campus where they began their
university careers. The singleyear
graduation rates clearly reveal that among CSU students the fifth year after
matriculation is the modal year for attaining a degree during the observed
sixyear 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:
Most discussions about how many students earn bachelor’s 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 6year cumulative graduation rates are computed and expressed as percentages.
Freshmen
that began in fall 1996 as fulltime students

Denominator

N = 28,039

Base = 100%

Graduated
within four years of matriculation

Numerator 4

n_{4}=
2,524

Rate = 9.0%

Graduated
within five years of matriculation

Numerator 5

n_{5}=
8,356

Rate = 29.8%

Graduated
within six years of matriculation

Numerator 6

n_{6}=
11,664

Rate = 41.6%

Within the CSU, it is standard practice to report cumulative graduation rates. Technically speaking, the 4year 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 2year continuation rates.
Freshmen
that began in fall 1996 as fulltime students

Denominator

N = 28,039

Base = 100%

Still
enrolled one year after matriculation

Numerator 1

n_{1}=
22,123

Rate = 78.9%

Still
enrolled two years after matriculation

Numerator 2

n_{2}=
18,478

Rate = 65.9%

A review of
historical continuation rates at the CSU consistently indicate that the largest
singleyear dip in reenrollment 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, firstyear attrition rates for
new freshmen and new transfers are remarkably similar in magnitude.
Because
graduation is not a viable outcome for the twoyear interval after
matriculation, attrition rates (i.e., the proportion leaving the university
without a bachelor’s degree) for this period are defined by the following
equality:
Attrition Rate_{i} = 100% – Continuation Rate_{i }(3)
So the two
continuation rates listed above indicate that 21.1 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 twoyear 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 Rate_{i} = 100% – (Graduation Rate_{i}
+ Continuation Rate_{i}) (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 Rate_{i} = 100% – Attrition Rate_{i}
(5)
Substituting terms, the equality becomes:
Persistence Rate_{i} = Graduation Rate_{i} +
Continuation Rate_{i} (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 firsttime 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 sixyear persistence rate has
historically been the trough of the persistence function, so it has served as
an excellent early predictor of a cohort’s eventual graduation rate.For example, in the chart above, the
sixyear persistence rate is 57 percent and the eventual graduation rate is 59
percent.
The use of the
sixyear persistence rate as a surrogate for a cohort’s 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 sixyear 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 firsttime 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 sixyear graduation rate for freshmen
cohorts at the CSU probably understates the true graduation rate by about 1215
percentage points.On the other hand, a
sixyear graduation rate for upper division transfers at the CSU probably
understates the true graduation rate by just 45 percentage points. The easiest remedy to the underreporting
of degree attainment associated with sixyear intervals, of course, is the use
of persistence rates.That is, adding
the proportion for those still enrolled sixyears after matriculation to the
sixyear 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 graduationrate
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 intrasystem 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
graduationrate 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 genderspecific graduation rates, ethnicspecific
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 fulltime 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 sixyear 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 firsttime 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 9395 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 grosscomparisons 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
sixyear 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 firsttime 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 grosscomparisons 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 sixyear graduation and persistence rates following
definitions spelled out by the CSU Chancellor’s Office.These indicators, labeled "Accountability
Rates," are generated for firsttime freshmen and upper division transfers from
California community colleges.In both
cases, the basic cohort is restricted to those students who met the
university’s 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 grosscomparisons between CSU campuses because
everyone is using the same set of definitions that identify the university’s
primary target populations.On balance,
Accountability Rates are slightly higher than CSRDE rates because the former exclude
some highrisk students who gained entry via special admission criteria.
Fall 1975
represents the date when the CSU started regularly tracking cohorts of both
firsttime 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 FirstTime 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 5year or sixyear timetodegree. 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 FirstTime 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 12month period for attaining a
bachelor’s 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
fouryear marker represents far fewer students than the fiveyear maker.
Another
notable finding the above chart suggests is that the CSU graduation rate for
incoming freshmen has increased noticeably over the 20year 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 fiveyear persistence rates for all students who
entered the CSU as either firsttime freshmen or California community college
transfers, where the rates imply program completion at any CSU campus.Like sixyear persistence rates, they are
reliable indicators of eventual graduation rates.In all, the chart indicates a 16 percentagepoint gain in the
eventual graduation rate for freshmen cohorts and an 18 percentagepoint 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 22year
period.
Source: 2003
Statistical Abstract, Tables 143a and 143b.
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12Year Observation Period
Every year the
CSU Statistical Abstract lists updated graduation outcomes that span 12
years for separate cohorts of regularly admitted firsttime freshmen and
regularly admitted California community college transfers.As much of the data already presented herein
indicate, the vast majority of CSU bachelor’s degrees are attained four to six
years after matriculation.So it would
be a momentous error to imply from the 12year observation period that the
average or modal timetodegree for CSU students is 12 years.The significance of the 12years 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
12year 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 bachelor’s 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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TimeToDegree
Observers of student outcomes are
not just interested in what proportion of new students attain bachelor’s
degrees; they also want to know how long it took students to complete the
degrees requirements.As we have seen,
timespecific graduation rates can denote some things about when cohorts of
students complete their studies.But
using graduation rates to handle all inquiries regarding timetodegree can be
awkward.Questions about how long
graduates take to attain their bachelor’s degrees are best answered by cohort
data that are restricted to just degree recipients.After nongraduates 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 timeto degree for each group. If the degrees were dispersed equally
across the college year, the calculating formula for the average would be:
where p
represents the percentage for iyear and X_{i1}_{ }represents
the preceding iyear after matriculation.Thus the quantity X_{i1} + 0.5 symbolizes the
midpoint for each 12month 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:
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 timetodegree for transfers is 3 years and the median
timetodegree for freshmen is 5 years.
Source: 2002
Statistical Abstract, Table 140
Since 197576,
the average timetodegree 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 198485 college year.Since the end of the 198485 college year, average timetodegree
has remained more or less stable.For
example, among those students who received bachelor’s degrees in 200203, the
averages for freshmen and undergraduate transfers were 5.6 and 3.5 years,
respectively.The chart below
illustrates how timetodegree crept up for new graduates from 197576 to
198485, and then fluctuated very little thereafter.
Clearly, all
the measures for timetodegree 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 197576. But perhaps the more salient fact is that for the last 20 years, the
averages for timetodegree among new freshmen and new undergraduate transfers
have essentially remained unchanged. The other salient fact is contextual. Since 197576, graduation rates have been moving upwards for both new
freshmen and new undergraduate transfers. Therefore increased timetodegree 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 firsttime
freshmen, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities plus the National Association of State Universities and
LandGrant 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
nontraditional students at many colleges and universities.The feeling was that the sixyear
requirement for generating IPEDS rates was appropriate for most traditional
students but inappropriate for many nontraditional students.What the Committee came up was a methodology
that sorts students into three groups according to their enrollment behavior
during the fouryear 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 FirstTime Freshmen.
The methodology begins with
identifying a cohort of firsttime 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 fouryear 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
fouryear period following matriculation. In the chart above, just 24 percent of the observed CSU firsttime
freshmen (in this case, regular admits) attempted coursework 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)—or 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 FirstTime 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 unitloads downward to compensate
for labor force commitments or other outside obligations. Nor do they adjust their unitloads 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,
unitloads are strongly associated with when students graduate. At the catalog award time (four years for
fouryear programs), 44 percent of the CLS firsttime 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.
As the chart above illustrates,
unitloads are strongly associated with the time frame for student
graduation. At the catalog award time
(four years for fouryear programs), 44 percent of the CLS firsttime 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 graduationrate question many new
users like to answer is: which undergraduate subgroup has higher graduation
rates, new firsttime freshmen or new undergraduate transfers.The basic finding, of course, is essentially
the same for every cohortbased 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 6080
semesters units to earn a CSU degree while the cohort with the lower rates
(i.e., new freshmen) has to complete about 120140 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 FirstTime Freshmen," displays several
statistical comparisons between transfers and firsttime 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://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 = 9901044) plus a few less selective schools (SAT I <990). New CSU firsttime, fulltime freshmen appear to fare better than comparable students at similar schools. A comparison of the oneyear continuation rate, for example freshmen indicates that the CSU is 10 percentagepoints higher than peer institutions (i.e., a combination of Less Selective and Moderately Selective schools). The CSU advantage for the sixyear graduation rate is about three percentagepoints.
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 oneyear continuation rate and the sixyear graduation rate.
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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
nonissue.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. Ethnicspecific 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 campusspecific 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 ethnicspecific 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
 Systemwide
and campusspecific CSRDE rates for new freshmen, community college
transfers, and new freshmen with declared majors in science, technology,
and math can be found at:
http://asd.calstate.edu/csrde/index.shtml
 Systemwide
and campusspecific Accountability rates for new freshmen and community
college transfers can be found at:
http://asd.calstate.edu/accountability/
go to Understanding Graduation Rates contents
return to FAQ contents
Prepared by:
Philip Garcia
Director of
Analytic Studies
Office of the
Chancellor
The California
State University