Retention and graduation rates are often referenced as “the” — or at least “a” — key indicator of institutional quality. But this approach is not without flaws when considering the first generation college population.
“In general, retention and graduation rates correlate more closely to student socioeconomic status and family situation than they do to institutional type, sector, or quality. Even at the highest-ranked institutions where drop-out rates are low in general, disadvantaged students are far more likely to leave without a degree than are their more advantaged peers. Schools that serve a large number of wealthy students can win the numbers game when graduation and retention rates are reported as averages among the entire student body. Conversely, schools that serve large numbers of disadvantaged students have nowhere to hide.”
“Perhaps the real reason that retention and graduation rates are so low among disadvantaged students is that the Federal financial-aid system is based on the principle of giving a little bit of money to a lot of students rather than giving enough money to any students.”
Suggestion for “an honest dialogue about institutional quality and assessment — one that doesn’t make underdogs out of the very institutions working hardest to provide a glimmer of hope to the neediest of students.”