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ACE, National Student Clearinghouse Explore More Comprehensive Graduation Rate

November 08, 2012


​A new analysis of postsecondary graduation rates by ACE finds that markedly more students have actually completed or are still pursuing their education than is indicated by the current federal method of reporting graduation rates.

For instance, while graduation rates calculated by the federal government hover near 55 percent for public four-year institutions, the ACE analysis of information from the National Student Clearinghouse shows that of the students who began college at those types of institutions in fall 2006, nearly 80 percent have actually completed their education or are still pursuing it.

Incomplete Completers: Analysis of a Comprehensive Graduation Rate compares traditional federal graduation rates for several higher education sectors taken from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which are limited to first-time, full-time students who enter in the fall of a given year, to persistence and attainment rates from the Clearinghouse, which include students who transfer or attend college part-time.

"President Obama has called for the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduation rates in the world by 2020, and we expect that emphasis to continue during his second term. The better we understand the college-going patterns of the rapidly growing number of part-time and transfer students, the more effectively we can take steps to meet their needs and accelerate their progress toward a degree or credential," said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. "The numbers from the Clearinghouse begin to give us a clearer picture of achievement for most postsecondary students in the United States."

The ACE analysis includes comparisons of IPEDS and Clearinghouse six-year graduation and persistence rates for students entering college in fall 2006 and breaks down those comparisons for part-time and transfer students. According to the Clearinghouse data, transfer students made up 31 percent of public university students who entered in fall 2006 and had a six-year graduation rate of 71 percent. These students are not included in the IPEDS graduation rate. The analysis also examines three-year graduation rates for community college students.

"The Clearinghouse data has the advantage of tracking part-time and transfer students, who are estimated to make up more than 50 percent of the student body," said Bryan J. Cook, director of ACE's Center for Policy Analysis and the report's author. "While what we've reported shouldn't be taken as an all-inclusive graduation rate, it does allow us to look at a snapshot of students who were previously uncounted and unrepresented in these numbers. Ultimately, using a more comprehensive data set will help us determine where we should focus our efforts in increasing attainment in the long term."

The ACE analysis is available online. The Clearinghouse plans to release a comprehensive, data-intensive report on the issue Thursday, Nov. 15.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jon Riskind ​▪ 202-939-9453 ▪ 

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