Diplomas and Dropouts: Which Colleges Actually Graduate Their Students (and Which Don’t)

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By 2015, less than one in four college students who start their higher education studies this fall will have earned a degree.

So says this new study, which seeks to shed light on whether institutional practices might cause certain colleges to graduate fewer students than do other colleges.

The report says graduation rates are affected by such factors as the institutions' selectivity, their funding levels, their missions and their student demographics. But it also acknowledges that the rates can be influenced by such elements as student motivation and preparedness.

Not surprisingly, the report found that graduation rates at competitive colleges were far greater than those at noncompetitive colleges: 88 percent versus 35 percent, respectively.

It also found wide variation in success among noncompetitive colleges. Recommendations include examining the reasons that some schools tend to graduate more students than others.

"It is possible that many of the nation's college-bound students are not college-ready -and that explains low graduation rates," the report states. "However, if this is the case, we need to determine what needs to be done to prepare them for the rigors of college attendance and completion."

College candidates should also have "crucial performance information readily at their disposal when making a choice," the study says, referring to the graduation rates at specific colleges. "The bottom line is that students enrolling in a college or university should have a reasonable expectation that they will earn a degree in a timely fashion. Where they do not, we must confront challenges more profound than a simple need for more transparency."

Read the report here.