By Troy Miller

Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst, Florida College Access Network

College-bound students spend countless hours thinking about what life after high school will be like. From dating to dorms to intellectual debate, the myth of college promises an event-filled four year transition to adulthood. In reality however, only about four in ten college students will actually graduate within a four-year timeline. Many will drop out and others will go further in debt to finish out college in five to six years.

Despite widespread efforts to broadcast college completion data and make it more accessible to families and college-going students, a national survey says almost 87% of incoming first-year college students believe they will graduate from their college in four years or less.  This of course is dramatically higher than what history might suggest, as four-year completion rates at bachelor’s degree-granting institutions tend to be closer to 40%.

The survey also indicates that college completion rates aren’t considered as important to students as other factors might be.  Only 30% of incoming college students responded that the percentage of students that graduate from this college was “very important” in deciding to attend their chosen institution.  The authors of the report compare this number to the rising number of students who indicated the economy influenced their college decision.  Over 66% of students surveyed said the current economic situation significantly affected their college choice (up 4% from two years previous).  Knowing how expensive extra time in college can be, the lack of attention toward graduation rates could be a costly mistake.

The results of the survey show why we need to have well-informed, honest, public discussions about what students should expect from their college experience. College completion is just one part of what should represent an informed college decision making process.  Graduation rates are featured on new online tools geared toward students and parents like the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, but we need to explore ways to get this information to resonate with students.   Websites like break down graduation rates by racial/ethnic groups and timeframe (4-year, 6-year) but others have called for more detailed data based on students’ individual characteristics (i.e. high school GPA, SAT/ACT test score).  Getting new college students to think and act more rationally about their college prospects is easier said than done, but we have a ways to go before we can safely assume students know what they need to know about significance of college completion rates.

Because 6-year graduation rates are most often used in higher education research and accountability reports, we included the chart below of all 4-year graduation rates for 4-year colleges and universities in Florida.  As you can see, most institution’s 4-year graduation rates fall short of 40% with many existing in the 15-30% range.

To view chart in your web browser, follow this link.
~Follow Troy Miller on Twitter @TroyMillerFCAN

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