The IPEDS graduation rates are based on the following formula:
Number of Graduates from CohortA with x years/(Number in CohortA-Approved exclusions [Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, military service, religious mission, death, etc.])
Where CohortA are all First-time students in the fall of a given year, including those whose enrollment also began in the summer, initially enrolled as full-time.
The calculation is performed where “x” is four, five, and six years post-entry for students pursuing four-year degrees, two and three years for students at two-year colleges.
There is no magic here, simply a set of assumptions of normal expectations that full-time students are likely to remain full-time – assuming their initial enrollment indicates their academic plans should thus complete in four years, but additional years are “allowed” for incidental delays along the way.
Institutions complain frequently that this measure is imperfect, especially community colleges.
It seems that most fail to realize that just because the law requires Title IV-participating institutions to report these figures to USED each year, THEY DON’T HAVE TO STOP THERE.
If an institution wants to report graduation rates for part-time students, or transfer students, star-bellied Sneetches and Sneetches with out stars, they are completely free to do so.
And they should.
Most don’t, I guess because they can’t compare to someone else, such as their self-defined peer groups. Isn’t this insane? Does it really matter how one institution performs against another when an increase in the metric over time is clearly the desired change? Institutions should be focused on improving student success and understanding who doesn’t graduate on time, and why. From there they can work to better support students and address structures that improve their success.
It simply isn’t that difficult. Comparisons and benchmarking have stopped institutional development, or at least slowed it, for institutions that rely on federal data. The only way to change that is to change the data available – with something like the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act. States can also get involved, like we do in Virginia.