First-Time, Full-time Freshmen, California Community College Transfers, and Comparative Rates

Like all higher education institutions that receive federal dollars, the CSU annually participates in the IPEDS Graduation Rate Survey. The results are cumulative graduation rates and yearly continuation rates for successive cohorts of new first-time freshmen degree-seekers that attempted full-time course-loads in their first academic term. These "native" freshmen are tracked for six years (see Full tracking of the natives began with the fall 1995 cohort of new freshmen that met the IPEDS selection criteria. Partial tracking information exists for comparable cohorts dating back to fall 1975 (see

The CSU also participates in annual surveys of transfer students from California Community Colleges (CCC), conducted by the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (CSRDE). These surveys track cumulative graduation rates and yearly continuation rates for successive cohorts of CCC transfer students who matriculated as sophomores and above (see Full tracking of the CCC transfer students began with the fall 1995 cohort that met the CSRDE selection criteria. Partial tracking information exists for comparable cohorts of new CCC transfers dating back to fall 1975 (see

Posting of the graduation rates for both natives and transfers invites comparison. Our message from day one has been that straight comparisons of graduation rates from the two surveys do not yield valid contrasts. The problem is that the CSRDE survey only captures partial information about community college students. For the most part, it documents how many transfers attain baccalaureates after they complete the lower division curriculum and successfully matriculate to four-year institution. Missing, for example, are counts of how many community college students never completed the lower division curriculum. On the other hand, the IPEDS survey documents the extent to which native students at four-year institutions complete both the lower- and upper-division curriculum. So when one makes a straight comparison between the two sets of rates, graduation rates for transfers denote completing about 60 semester units and graduation rates for natives denote completing about 120 semester units.

To produce valid contrasts, one must either adjust the observed graduation rate for transfers downward by estimating the proportion of non-transfers, or adjust the native graduation rates upward by eliminating the observation for students that never moved into the upper-division curriculum. Given the data at hand, only the latter solution is possible at this time.

To compare IPEDS and CSRDE graduation rates for undergraduates who matriculated at CSU in the same fall term, alternative rates for first-time full-time freshmen (FTF) are generated for each observed cohort. The denominator for the alternative rate is the number of FTF who survived the first 2 years of instruction at CSU, and the numerator is the number of graduates that emerged from the denominator. Roughly speaking, about 70 percent of all FTF who matriculated at CSU in a given year survive to re-enroll for a third-year of study. In recent years, these students have averaged about 59 earned semester units at the onset of their third year. This is essentially equal to the number of transfer units earned associated with CCC transfers. On average, recent CCC transfers, as defined by CSRDE, have completed 57 semester units before they attempt any CSU classes. Because of this equality in units earned, we believe the alternative, or equalized, FTF graduation rate can be legitimately contrasted with the observed graduation rate for transfers.

To accommodate those interested in comparing graduation rates between natives and transfers, we have posted equalized six-year graduation and continuation rates for cohorts dating back to fall 1975 (see Also posted are equalized six-year persistence rates (i.e., the sum of the six-year graduation rate and the six-year persistence rate). Analysis of 12-year tracking period has verified that the six-year persistence rate is an excellent surrogate for the eventual graduation rate that emerges from either a native cohort or a transfer cohort (see, for example, ).

 AS Web Tech Contact:
Technical Contact:

Last Updated: September 14, 2009