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Examining Predicted vs. Actual College Graduation Rates

US News

In recent blog posts, U.S. News published exclusive analyses of how successful colleges are at graduating low-income students and high-income students; in addition, we are now able to look at which schools are exceeding or falling short of expectations in terms of graduating their students. This important outcomes indicator measures the "value added" by colleges in the process of educating their students.

U.S. News became a leader in this area of measuring graduation rate performance when we first published these performance scores and used them as part of the Best Colleges rankings for the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges ranking categories, starting with the 1997 rankings and as part of our ranking methodology annually since then.

Higher education research shows that students with high SAT and ACT exam scores are more likely to graduate from college. Conversely, students with low scores are less likely to complete their degrees. Thus, a school enrolling a freshman class with a high SAT or ACT test score average has a better chance of seeing a large percentage of students graduate, while a freshman class with a low average ACT or SAT score tends to produce a lower percentage of graduates.

It's an important educational outcome to determine the degree to which a given school is able to succeed given the characteristics of its student body. Our graduation rate performance measure tries to capture this educational value a school is able to add between freshman orientation and graduation.

Currently, the U.S. News graduation rate performance indicator counts for 7.5 percent in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges rankings methodology. A school's predicted graduation rate is calculated by determining the statistical relationship (a regression analysis) between a school's six-year graduation rate and its average SAT and ACT test scores, expenditures per student, proportion of the entering class in the top 25 percent of their high school class, whether the university is public or private, and the proportion of the undergraduate student body that receives Pell grants (federal aid given to students from low-income families).

In the 2013 Best Colleges, we used the difference between a school's actual six-year graduation rate for the class that entered in fall 2005 and the rate we predicted for the class to determine overperformers and underperformers. If the actual graduation rate is higher than the predicted rate, the college is enhancing achievement and performs better in the rankings; if a school's actual rate is less than our estimate, it's falling short of expectations for its students and does not do as well in the rankings.

Overperformers

The table below shows the top overperforming schools in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges ranking categories, where the difference between a school's actual six-year graduation rate for the class that entered in fall 2005 was the highest when compared with the U.S. News predicted rate for that school.

School name (state) U.S. News rank & category Predicted 2011 six-year graduation rate Actual 2011 six-year graduation rate Overperformance
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey--Newark 115, National Universities 46% 68% + 22
South Carolina State University 147, National Universities 15% 35% + 20
St. Michael's College (VT) 90, National Liberal Arts Colleges 62% 82% + 20
North Carolina A&T State University RNP*, National Universities 25% 43% + 18
Jackson State University (MS) RNP, National Universities 25% 43% +18
Bay Path College (MA) RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 47% 65% + 18
Pennsylvania State University--University Park 46, National Universities 70% 87% + 17
Talladega College (AL) RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 24% 40% + 16
Spalding University (KY) RNP, National Universities 26% 42% + 16
Berea College (KY) 75, National Liberal Arts Colleges 46% 62% + 16

Underperformers

This table shows the underperforming schools in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges ranking categories, where the difference between a school's actual six-year graduation rate for the class that entered in fall 2005 was the lowest when compared with the U.S. News predicted rate for that school.

School name (state) U.S. News rank& category Predicted 2011 six-year graduation rate Actual 2011 six-year graduation rate Underperformance
Virginia Intermont College RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 44% 25% -19
Marymount Manhattan College (NY) RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 59% 40% -19
University of Alabama--Huntsville 184, National Universities 64% 45% -19
Louisiana State University--Alexandria RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 32% 12% -20
Shimer College (IL) RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 59% 35% -24
Dillard University (LA) RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 54% 24% -30
American Jewish University (CA) 151, National Liberal Arts Colleges 72% 38% -34
Holy Cross College (IN) RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 53% 13% -40
Bryn Athyn College of the New Church (PA) RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 70% 30% -40
National-Louis University (IL) RNP, National Universities 56% 15% -41
Harrisburg University of Science and Technology (PA) RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 81% 9% -72

*RNP denotes an institution that is ranked in the bottom one fourth of its rankings category. U.S. Newscalculates a rank for the school but has decided not to publish it.

The graduation rate data above are correct as of Nov. 1, 2012.

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