Over at the Prichard Committee’s blog they have been putting up all sorts of graphs with statistics on college graduation rates for Kentucky’s public universities. While the Prichard folks haven’t come right out and said it, the strong hint they seem to be dropping is that Kentucky’s colleges are not doing a very good job and the problem rests with the colleges.
While I certainly agree that our colleges graduate far too few, I don’t think (with the exception of the operation of teacher training programs) that the major blame rests at the college level.
Very simply, it isn’t reasonable to expect our universities to create silk purses out of the sow’s ears they are getting from the K to 12 public school system.
Anyway, I decided to take a different look at the graduation rate information Prichard was using to see if the problems of inadequate high school preparation showed in the data. To do that, I compared the preparation level of entering college freshmen to the percentage that eventually graduate.
The graph shows what I found.
The finding, which isn’t surprising, is that when colleges can accept a higher percentage of prepared students, they generally graduate more of those students (For the statistical types, the correlation between preparation rates and graduation rates is very high, at 0.86. A perfect correlation would be 1.0. In social statistics correlations over 0.8 are very significant).
The graph tells us more. Very simply, our four-year colleges cannot find enough fully qualified applicants. Most accept an alarmingly high proportion of under-prepared students. In five out of eight of our public universities, the proportion of students entering with adequate preparation is only on the order of one out of two, or even less.
So, don’t put too much blame on the colleges for our poor postsecondary graduation rates. The data indicates the problem rests with the K to 12 public schools in this state.
The college graduation rates for the entering class of 2001 in the graph come from a federal Web tool called the “College Navigator.”
Unfortunately, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education didn’t start to report percentages of students prepared for college until the entering class of 2002, but it isn’t likely that there was much of a change from the actual data for the entering college freshmen of 2001.
That preparation rate data for the entering class of 2002 is found in Table 1 in the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s (CPE) “Underprepared Students in Kentucky: A First Look at the 2001 Mandatory Placement Policy.”