State-level graduation rates turns focus on student outcomes

Graduation rates across the country are higher than previously reported according to a new state-level report released Feb. 24.

The Signature Report 8 State Supplement, a state-by-state national study on college completion, reported the national average for four-year public schools is more than five percent higher than the 59 percent indicated by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The increase stems from the study’s improvements in tracking and categorizing student outcomes, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Previous study methodology did not account for the mobility of college students by only counting full-time freshmen who graduate where they first enrolled and it mislabeled students who graduated elsewhere as dropouts.

The report was produced by the NSCRC and monitored 2.7 million first-time degree-seeking students who began college between Fall 2008 through 2014, tracking six-year student outcomes as students move from school to school.

While 49.8 percent of students who began at four-year public institutions in the U.S. completed within six years at their starting institution, an additional 13.06 percent completed elsewhere, according to the report.

With a total completion rate of 68.75 percent, California surpassed the overall U.S. average by almost 6 percent for students at four-year public institutions. California only fell short in categories involving two-year institutions.

SF State tracks six-year graduation rates of incoming full-time freshman as part of a CSU initiative, according to Jo Volkert, the Interim Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.

“It is only freshmen because that is what the national measurement is,” Volkert said. “We can only look at people that come and stay.”

Although estimated through traditional measures, trends in the graduation rate at SF State indicate recent improvements, according to the 2014 Data Book and preliminary data provided by Volkert. During the past five years, the six-year graduation rate for full time freshmen ranged between 45 and 48 percent, but rose to 49.7 percent last year.

“It is on the upswing, that’s the good news,” Volkert said. “It kind of fluctuates, but we had this nice jump last year based on all the efforts we have done to try to improve the graduation rate.”

Volkert said the improvement is the result of developments the school has been working on for years.

“We’ve got a lot more activities here on campus and important things for students to get involved in, like community service and other things to try to make them feel connected at SF State,” Volkert said. “We are also trying to do more in the way of advising, like the Gator Scheduler.”

In the NSCRC report, close to one in four students who graduated in the U.S. did so at a different institution than where they first enrolled. Including transfer students in calculations would increase graduation rates at universities, including SF State who tracks transfer students separately.

“It’s not part of this CSU initiative, but we definitely track it in our data book, they don’t get lost,” Volkert said. “We care about our transfer students. Over half our students come in as transfers. So we definitely want to know about the success of all our students.”

Last year at SF State, 72.4 percent of transfer students from California Community Colleges graduated within four years compared to 18.3 percent of people who began as freshman.

“(Transfer students) have already completed all their general education and they have already adjusted to the college life,” Volkert said.

Transfer student Brad Penner said he considered the graduation rate when applying at SF State.

“It was good to see that it was high here and students are not wasting their time and money not graduating,” Penner said. “It shows a certain level of commitment. It seems more serious here than at a community college.”

Computer Engineering student Ivan Briseno said he believes it is important to track things like graduation rates.

“A high graduation rate means a better education in a sense,” Briseno said. “It shows more people are actually doing the work.”