oversight

College Completion: Additional Efforts Could Help Education with Its Completion Goals

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-05-23.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

             United States General Accounting Office

GAO          Report to Congressional Requesters




May 2003
             COLLEGE
             COMPLETION
             Additional Efforts
             Could Help Education
             with Its Completion
             Goals




GAO-03-568
             a
                                               May 2003


                                               COLLEGE COMPLETION

                                               Additional Efforts Could Help Education
Highlights of GAO-03-568, a report to the      With Its Completion Goals
Ranking Minority Members, Committee on
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions,
United States Senate, and Committee on
Education and the Workforce, House of
Representatives




Because of concerns that not                   More than half of all students who enrolled in a 4-year college completed a
enough students who start college              bachelor’s degree within 6 years. Students were less likely to complete if
are completing a bachelor’s degree,            neither parent had completed a degree, they were black, they worked 20 or
we examined (1) the extent to                  more hours per week, or they transferred to another college. Students had a
which students who enroll in a 4-              greater likelihood of completing if they were continuously enrolled, attended
year college complete a bachelor’s
degree and identify the factors that
                                               full-time, or had more rigorous high school curriculum. After controlling for
affect completion; (2) what states             other factors, GAO found that disadvantaged students were no less likely to
and 4-year colleges and universities           complete a degree than other students. However, students from
are doing to foster bachelor’s                 disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to attend college in the first place.
degree completion; and (3) what
the Department of Education                    Status of Students 6 Years after Beginning in 1995-96 at a 4-Year Institution
(Education) is doing to foster
degree completion.



As Education moves forward with
its plan to hold colleges and
universities accountable for their
performance in graduating their
students, GAO recommends that
the Secretary of Education
•    consider multiple measures
     that would help account for
     the other goals of higher
     education and differences
     among colleges and
•    take steps to identify and
     disseminate information about
     promising practices in the
     areas of retention and
     graduation.
                                               States are beginning to hold colleges accountable for retaining and
Education agreed with GAO’s                    graduating their students, and Education has been discussing this with the
recommendations, but expressed                 higher education community. Many states are publishing retention and
concerns with some aspects of the
                                               graduation rates for their colleges, and some have tied performance in these
report. Among other things,
Education was concerned with the               areas to funding. According to Education, providing information on colleges’
scope of GAO’s review and said                 retention and graduation performance can help prospective students make
that, for example, GAO should have             informed decisions. However, the measure used by Education may not fully
included information on graduation             reflect an institution’s performance because institutional goals and missions
rate trends; however, its suggested            are not captured in the measure. In its strategic plan, Education has
data would not be comparable for               identified goals to reduce gaps in college completion and increase overall
these purposes.                                completion. It also has some evaluation and dissemination efforts related to
www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-568.         retention and completion, however, these efforts do not systematically
                                               identify and disseminate promising retention and graduation practices to
To view the full report, including the scope   help states and institutions.
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Cornelia M.
Ashby at (202) 512-8403 or
ashbyc@gao.gov.
Contents


Letter                                                                                   1
               Results in Brief                                                          3
               Background                                                                5
               Over Half of Students Enrolled in a 4-Year College or University
                 Completed Their Degree within 6 Years, but Certain Factors
                 Affect the Likelihood of Doing So                                     10
               States and 4-Year Institutions Had Various Methods to Foster
                 Bachelor’s Degree Completion                                          14
               Education Has Programs to Foster College Completion, but No
                 Systematic Efforts to Identify and Disseminate Information on
                 Promising Practices                                                   26
               Conclusions                                                             31
               Recommendations                                                         32
               Agency Comments                                                         32

Appendix I     Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                       35



Appendix II    Bachelor’s Degree Completion Status of 1995-96
               Beginning Postsecondary Students 6 Years after
               Enrolling                                                                39



Appendix III   Results of Regression Models for Bachelor’s Degree
               Completion within 6 Years of Beginning College                           42



Appendix IV    Comments from the Department of Education                                45



Appendix V     GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                   48
               Contacts                                                                48
               Acknowledgments                                                         48




               Page i                                        GAO-03-568 College Completion
Table
          Table 1: Overview of Education Programs That Have College
                   Completion as a Primary Goal                                                     28


Figures
          Figure 1: Educational Attainment of Students Who Were in the
                   Eighth Grade in 1988, 12 Years Later, by Income,
                   Race/Ethnicity                                                                    5
          Figure 2: Status of Students 6 Years after Beginning in 1995-96 at a
                   4-Year Institution                                                                9
          Figure 3: Bachelor’s Degree Completion Status for Students
                   Enrolled at 4-year Institutions, 6 Years after Beginning
                   College                                                                          11
          Figure 4: Bachelor’s Degree Completion by Number of Hours
                   Worked Per Week                                                                  13
          Figure 5: Bachelor’s Degree Completion by Type of First Institution
                   Attended and Transfer Status                                                     14




          Abbreviations

          BPS               Beginning Postsecondary Students
          GEAR UP           Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate
                            Programs
          GRS               Graduation Rate Survey
          NPSAS:96          National Postsecondary Student Aid Study




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          Page ii                                                  GAO-03-568 College Completion
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   May 23, 2003

                                   The Honorable Edward M. Kennedy
                                   Ranking Minority Member
                                   Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
                                   United States Senate

                                   The Honorable George Miller
                                   Ranking Minority Member
                                   Committee on Education and the Workforce
                                   House of Representatives

                                   A college degree is a key ingredient for success in the job market. Those
                                   with postsecondary degrees on average earn more than those without
                                   such degrees and bring important skills to the workplace. Completing
                                   college can serve as a means for disadvantaged students1 to improve their
                                   economic and social circumstances. Beyond the societal benefits, the
                                   federal government has additional interests in encouraging college
                                   completion. Research indicates that those who stay in college and advance
                                   toward a degree are less likely to default on a student loan—the federal
                                   government provided student borrowers with $35 billion in new loans in
                                   fiscal year 2001.2 In addition to the investment the federal government
                                   makes in higher education, states, parents, and students make substantial
                                   investments. To help protect these investments, policymakers have begun
                                   to focus on accountability of colleges and universities, especially
                                   regarding college completion rates. The Department of Education
                                   (Education) has begun to discuss this issue with the higher education
                                   community.




                                   1
                                    Disadvantaged students are identified by the socioeconomic diversity index, which is
                                   based on three indicators: (1) family income as percentage of 1994 federal poverty level,
                                   (2) highest education by either parent, and (3) proportion of students in high school eligible
                                   for free/reduced price lunch.
                                   2
                                    These loans were provided through two major federal student loan programs, the Federal
                                   Direct Loan Program and the Federal Family Education Loan Program. Under the Direct
                                   Loan Program, students or their parents borrow money directly from the federal
                                   government through the schools the students attend. Under the Family Education Loan
                                   Program, money is borrowed from private lenders such as banks, and the federal
                                   government guarantees repayment if the borrowers default.



                                   Page 1                                                     GAO-03-568 College Completion
Because of concerns that not enough students who start college are
completing a bachelor’s degree, you asked us to determine (1) the extent
to which students—including those from lower socioeconomic
backgrounds—who enroll in a 4-year college or university complete a
bachelor’s degree and the factors that affect bachelor’s degree completion;
(2) what states and 4-year colleges and universities are doing to foster
bachelor’s degree completion and what is known about the effectiveness
of these efforts; and (3) what Education is doing to foster bachelor’s
degree completion.

To determine the extent to which students complete bachelor’s degrees
and the factors that affect completion, we conducted a logistic regression
using data from Education’s 1995-1996 Beginning Postsecondary Students
study, which tracked over a 6-year period the academic progress and
degree completion of individual students beginning with the time they first
enrolled in postsecondary study in 1995-1996. We analyzed data for those
students who in 1995-1996 were enrolled in a 4-year institution or were
enrolled at some other type of institution, but transferred to a 4-year
institution at some point during the 6-year period. As a result, our analysis
excludes other types of students, such as community college students who
did not transfer to a 4-year institution. To identify what states and 4-year
colleges and universities are doing to foster bachelor’s degree completion,
we conducted a survey of state higher education executive officer
agencies representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto
Rico.3 We received responses representing 48 of the 52 jurisdictions (92
percent). We also interviewed state officials and administrators at
11 public colleges and universities in Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Texas,
and Virginia. We selected these states and institutions based on geographic
dispersion and the variety of efforts reported to us by experts and in the
survey. To identify what Education is doing to foster bachelor’s degree
completion, we talked with Education officials and reviewed program and
planning documents. A more detailed explanation of our methodology is
included in appendix I. We conducted our work between April 2002 and
May 2003 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing
standards.




3
 We used the membership list of the State Higher Education Executive Officers, a
nonprofit, national association that represents statewide postsecondary education
interests.




Page 2                                                   GAO-03-568 College Completion
                   More than half of all students who enroll in a 4-year college or university
Results in Brief   complete a bachelor’s degree within 6 years of beginning postsecondary
                   education. On the basis of our analysis, select background characteristics,
                   work and college attendance patterns, as well as academic preparation
                   and performance are correlated with bachelor’s degree completion.
                   Specific factors associated with a lower likelihood of completing a
                   bachelor’s degree include coming from a family in which neither parent
                   had earned a bachelor’s degree, being black, working 20 or more hours per
                   week, or transferring to another institution. Students were more likely to
                   complete their degree work if they were continuously enrolled during the
                   6-year period or attended full-time. The likelihood of a student graduating
                   within 6 years also increased as rigor of their high school curriculum, high
                   school grade point average, and first-year college grade point average
                   increased. After controlling for other factors, we found that disadvantaged
                   students were no less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than other
                   students. Notwithstanding this fact, students from disadvantaged
                   backgrounds are less likely to attend college in the first place.

                   States and 4-year colleges and universities are employing various methods
                   to foster bachelor’s degree completion, but information on the
                   effectiveness of these efforts is limited. Over two-thirds of the states
                   responding to our survey reported having at least one effort in place to
                   foster bachelor’s degree completion. Most of these efforts fell into three
                   categories: (1) increasing the number of students entering postsecondary
                   education; (2) helping colleges improve their performance in retaining and
                   graduating students; and (3) helping individual students remain in college
                   and encouraging timely completion for these students. For example, in an
                   attempt to increase the number of students entering college, Kentucky has
                   aligned high school graduation standards with college admissions
                   standards by creating a single high school curriculum for all students.
                   Also, in an effort to help students remain in college, seven states reported
                   efforts to facilitate transfer from one college to another. Officials in
                   Florida told us that establishing policies that help students transfer from
                   community colleges to 4-year institutions was important because the
                   community college system is considered the point of entry for most
                   college students in the state. States reported that almost half of these
                   efforts have been evaluated, but provided few specific evaluation results.
                   As a way to foster bachelor’s degree completion, 4-year colleges and
                   universities we visited were engaged in activities designed to improve the
                   learning experience for students by creating smaller learning communities
                   that foster greater connections to the institution, along with strengthening
                   support of students to promote academic success. For example, some
                   colleges have created residential learning opportunities for students.


                   Page 3                                          GAO-03-568 College Completion
These “living-learning” communities are operated through the residence
halls where students live together and take a class together. In some cases,
officials attributed increases in retention to their efforts.

Education fosters bachelor’s degree completion by making financial aid
available to students and providing support services for students who are
low-income, come from families in which neither parent has a bachelor’s
degree, or are disabled. Education administers the federal student aid
programs, primarily through grants and loans to help students finance
college. In September 2002, we reported that little information is available
on the relative effectiveness of federal grants and loans on completion.
Education also administers programs that provide support services, such
as tutoring, at the pre-college and college levels to help ensure successful
outcomes for students who are low-income, come from families in which
neither parent has earned a bachelor’s degree, or are disabled. Information
on the effectiveness of these programs in fostering college completion is
still being collected. Through its strategic plan, Education has identified
priorities for reducing gaps in college completion among certain student
populations and increasing completion overall. Its strategic plan also
identifies strengthening the accountability of postsecondary institutions to
ensure colleges are graduating their students in a timely manner as a
priority. According to Education, providing prospective students with
information on graduation and retention rates to help them make informed
choices about where to attend college is one way to hold institutions
accountable for their performance. Education has some evaluation and
dissemination efforts related to retention and completion; however, it does
not have a systematic way to identify and share promising practices in
these areas with states and colleges that are looking for strategies to help
them better retain their students.

In this report, we make recommendations to the Secretary of Education to
(1) consider multiple measures in holding institutions accountable for
their performance in graduating their students and (2) identify and
disseminate promising practices in the areas of retention and graduation.

In written comments on a draft of this report, Education agreed with our
recommendations, but expressed concerns with some aspects of the
report. Among other things, Education had concerns with the scope of our
review and commented that, for example, we should have provided
information on trends in graduation rates; however, the studies it
suggested we use are not comparable and should not be used for these
purposes. Education also provided technical comments, which we
incorporated where appropriate.


Page 4                                          GAO-03-568 College Completion
                                        Many factors affect why some students graduate from college and our
Background                              review would not be complete without first considering the extent to
                                        which students with different characteristics advance to higher levels of
                                        education. Many students will complete their education without ever
                                        having enrolled in college. Figure 1 shows some of the differences in
                                        educational participation and attainment for a group of students who were
                                        followed over a 12-year period starting in the eighth grade.

Figure 1: Educational Attainment of Students Who Were in the Eighth Grade in 1988, 12 Years Later, by Income,
Race/Ethnicity




                                        Note: GAO analysis of Education’s National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988.




                                        Page 5                                                        GAO-03-568 College Completion
We reported in February 2002 that low-income, black, and Hispanic
students complete high school at lower rates than other students.4
Students from these groups who graduate from high school also enroll in
college at lower rates than their peers, even though the overall rate at
which students enter college directly from high school has been
increasing. According to research, factors such as family income and
parents’ educational attainment influence students’ expectations about
college. Low-income students and students from families in which neither
parent has earned a bachelor’s degree were less likely to expect to finish
college and ultimately enrolled at lower rates than other students.
Academic preparation was also cited as a factor affecting postsecondary
enrollment. Low-income, black, and Hispanic high school graduates were
less likely to be well prepared academically to attend a 4-year college.
Even among those who were qualified for college, however, low-income
and Hispanic students were less likely to take college entrance
examinations and apply for admission, two necessary steps for enrolling in
a 4-year institution.

There are a variety of postsecondary options for students after high
school. Over 15 million students were enrolled in some type of higher
education in the fall of 2000. Most students were enrolled in degree-
granting 2-year or 4-year institutions.5 After considering their academic
qualifications, students can choose to apply to institutions with varying
levels of selectivity. Community colleges, for example, provide
postsecondary opportunities for students who might not have the
qualifications to start at most 4-year institutions. Additionally, students
may wish to choose an institution based on its mission. For example,
Minority Serving Institutions are recognized by statute, in part, for their
mission to educate minority students.

The institutions students attend have differing graduation rates.
Institutional graduation rates may vary based upon such factors as the
mission, selectivity, and type of institution. For example, institutions that
focus on providing postsecondary opportunities to disadvantaged



4
 U.S. General Accounting Office, School Dropouts: Education Could Play a Stronger Role
in Identifying and Disseminating Promising Prevention Strategies, GAO-02-240
(Washington, D.C.: Feb. 1, 2002).
5
 About 2 percent of students were enrolled at nondegree-granting, Title IV-eligible,
postsecondary institutions. These included vocational and technical programs designed to
prepare students for specific careers.




Page 6                                                  GAO-03-568 College Completion
students—addressing Education’s goal of increasing participation in
higher education—may have lower graduation rates than institutions that
do not serve many disadvantaged students. To ensure that students and
their parents have some information about how colleges are performing
with respect to graduating their students, Congress passed the Campus
Security and Student Right-to-Know Act.6 This act, as amended, requires
that institutions participating in any student financial assistance program
under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 disclose to current and
prospective students information about the graduation rates of first-time,
full-time undergraduate students. The law requires that institutions report
the percentage of students who graduate or complete within 150 percent
of the normal program completion time. This would mean that 4-year
institutions would track groups of entering students over a 6-year period,
and 2-year institutions would track groups of entering students over a
3-year period. While information collected as part of this act is the
principal federal measure available to hold institutions accountable for
their performance in graduating their students, there are currently no
federal sanctions or incentives associated with college graduation rates.
As part of discussions with the higher education community, Education
has held panel discussions with student-aid experts, state officials, and
business leaders, among other participants, about improving
accountability.

Four-year institutions calculate their graduation rate by determining the
proportion of first-time, full-time students who enroll in a given year and
have graduated from the same institution within a 6-year period.7 Students
who have not graduated from the institution where they first enrolled by
the end of the 6-year period are classified as not having finished a degree,
even if they transferred and completed a degree at another institution.
Data from Education’s 1995-96 Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS)
study—a longitudinal study8 which followed the retention and degree
completion of students from the time they enrolled in any postsecondary



6
Pub. L. No. 101-542, Nov. 8, 1990.
7
 For the purpose of calculating a graduation rate, an institution may exclude from the
original cohort students who have left school to serve in the military; to serve on official
church missions; to serve with a foreign aid service of the federal government, such as the
Peace Corps; are totally and permanently disabled; or are deceased.
8
 The first BPS study tracked the educational attainment of a group of students who first
enrolled in postsecondary education in 1989-90. The next scheduled BPS study will follow
students who first enroll in postsecondary education in the 2003-04 school year.




Page 7                                                     GAO-03-568 College Completion
institution over a 6-year period—illustrates how graduation rates are
understated due to this treatment of transfer students. Figure 2 shows the
completion status of the nearly 1.4 million students who started their
postsecondary education at a 4-year institution in 1995-96 (no transfers
into 4-year institutions from 2-year institutions or certificate programs
were included). Over one-quarter of the students who started at a 4-year
institution transferred from their first institution to another institution. If
only those who completed a bachelor’s degree at the first institution of
attendance are considered, the graduation rate is 51 percent. However, an
additional 8 percent transferred to another institution and completed a
bachelor’s degree within the 6-year period.




Page 8                                            GAO-03-568 College Completion
Figure 2: Status of Students 6 Years after Beginning in 1995-96 at a 4-Year Institution




                                          Note: GAO analysis of BPS 1995-96 data.




                                          Page 9                                          GAO-03-568 College Completion
                         Over half of students who enrolled in a 4-year college or university
Over Half of Students    completed a bachelor’s degree within 6 years of beginning postsecondary
Enrolled in a 4-Year     education, according to our analysis of BPS data. However, background
                         characteristics such as being black or a first-generation college student9
College or University    were associated with lower rates of completion. Whereas students were
Completed Their          more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree within 6 years if, among other
                         things, they had a more rigorous curriculum in high school, attended
Degree within 6 Years,   college full-time, were continuously enrolled, worked less than 20 hours
but Certain Factors      per week, or did not transfer. After controlling for other factors, we found
Affect the Likelihood    that disadvantaged students were no less likely to complete a bachelor’s
                         degree than other students. Notwithstanding this fact, as we have noted,
of Doing So              students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to attend college
                         in the first place.

                         For various reasons, not all students who enroll in college will ultimately
                         attain a degree. Based on Education’s 1995-96 BPS study, 52 percent of the
                         estimated 1.8 million students who enrolled in a 4-year institution at some
                         point during the subsequent 6-year period (including approximately
                         450,000 students who transferred from a less than 4-year institution10)
                         completed their bachelor’s degree.11 Of the 48 percent of students who had
                         not attained a bachelor’s degree, nearly 14 percent were still enrolled in a
                         4-year institution at the end of the 6-year period, as shown in figure 3. See
                         appendix II for completion rates by characteristics and appendix III for
                         descriptions of the variables used in our analysis and a discussion of their
                         levels of significance.




                         9
                          First-generation college students come from families in which neither parent has earned a
                         bachelor’s degree.
                         10
                          These institutions include 2-year schools and certificate programs at less than 2-year
                         schools.
                         11
                           Students in our population are counted as bachelor’s degree completers if they had
                         attained their degree by the end of the 6-year study. Our analysis included students enrolled
                         in public or private, not for profit, 4-year institutions.




                         Page 10                                                   GAO-03-568 College Completion
Figure 3: Bachelor’s Degree Completion Status for Students Enrolled at 4-year
Institutions, 6 Years after Beginning College



                             14%                      Did not complete bachelor's degree;
                                                      still enrolled in a 4-year institution



          52%
                                   34%                Did not complete bachelor's degree;
                                                      not enrolled in a 4-year institution




                                                      Completed bachelor's degree
Source: Department of Education.
Note: GAO analysis of Education’s BPS 1995-96 data.


Of the background characteristics we analyzed, being black or a first-
generation college student was associated with lower completion rates.
Students with either of these characteristics were about a third less likely
to complete college as students without these characteristics. The
completion rate for black students was 38 percent compared with
55 percent for both white and Asian students. As for students who had at
least one parent with a bachelor’s degree, their rate of completion was
59 percent compared with 43 percent for students who were first-
generation college students. Being a first-generation student affected
completion regardless of race. For example, first-generation white
students were no more likely to complete college than first-generation
black students.

Students who had a more rigorous high school curriculum and achieved
better grades in high school and during the first year of college were more
likely to complete college.12 About 80 percent of students who had the


12
  BPS includes five categories for curriculum rigor, which are based on the number and
level of courses completed. The “highly rigorous” category includes 4 years each of English
and math; 3 years each of foreign language, science, and social science; 1 advanced
placement or honors class or 1 advance placement test score in any subject; and student
had taken pre-calculus, biology, chemistry, and physics.




Page 11                                                        GAO-03-568 College Completion
most rigorous high school curriculum completed college compared with
47 percent who had the least rigorous curriculum. Additionally, the higher
the grades a student earned both in high school and in the first-year of
college, the higher the likelihood of completion. Regarding first-year
college grade point average, about 71 percent of students who earned
higher than a 3.0 had completed college compared with 51 percent who
earned between a 2.0 and 3.0. Students were more than twice as likely to
complete college for every one-point increase in first-year college grade
point average.

Decisions students make regarding attendance, participation in collegiate
clubs, and work had varying effects on completion. Students who were
continuously enrolled during their studies were more than 6 times as likely
to graduate than students who experienced one or more breaks from
enrollment13 Additionally, students who attended college full-time were
more than twice as likely to graduate as students who attended part-time
or some combination of part-time and full-time, all other factors equal.
Students who reported participating in collegiate clubs were one and one-
half times as likely to graduate as students who did not participate. Less
than half of students reported such participation. Students who worked
20 or more hours per week were less likely to complete a bachelor’s
degree than students who did not work. However, working less than
20 hours per week was not associated with lower completion rates. Figure
4 illustrates bachelor’s degree completion rates by the number of hours
worked per week.




13
 A “break” includes not being enrolled for more than 4 months at a time.




Page 12                                                  GAO-03-568 College Completion
Figure 4: Bachelor’s Degree Completion by Number of Hours Worked Per Week

     Percent who completed bachelor's degree
     80




     60




     40




     20




      0
           er an




            rw s
                ek

           er -19



           er -31
                ek



                ek




                  k
      ur less k or




          pe ur
               ee
        s p th
             we


             we



             we
        s p 10



        s p 20



       re 2 ho
             r
10 rked t wo




      ur d



      ur d
   ho orke



   ho rke



    mo 3
 wo d no




 or rked
     Wo
     W
   ho
   Di




 Wo




Source: Department of Education.
Note: GAO analysis of Education’s BPS 1995-96 data.


Transferring between institutions was also associated with a lower
likelihood of completion in that students who transferred were a little less
than half as likely to complete as students who did not. About 69 percent
of students who started at a 4-year institution and did not transfer attained
a bachelor’s degree compared with 47 percent of students who started at a
4-year institution and transferred to another 4-year institution. The rate of
completion for students who started at a 2-year institution and transferred
to a 4-year institution was roughly half of those who started at a 4-year
institution and did not transfer.14 Figure 5 illustrates the bachelor’s degree
completion rate after 6 years according to type of institution first attended
and transfer status.



14
  Since our population includes only 2-year students who transferred, we tested to see if the
effect of transferring was instead an effect of starting at a 2-year institution. We found that
it is transferring that accounts for the variance in completion, not type of first institution.




Page 13                                                     GAO-03-568 College Completion
                     Figure 5: Bachelor’s Degree Completion by Type of First Institution Attended and
                     Transfer Status

                       Percent who completed bachelor's degree
                       80




                       60




                       40




                       20




                        0
                                      an r
                                            r




                                           ar



                                           ar
                                to sferr r



                                to sferr r
                                    a 4 ed



                                    a 4 ed
                                  t tr ea
                                        sfe


                                          a



                                          a
                                       -ye



                                       -ye
                                ran -ye



                                ran 2-ye
                               no 4-y



                            dt ta4
                           id at a




                         an at a
                              da




                            dt
                     an rted




                              d
                          rte



                          rte
                         an
                       dd
                      Sta



                      Sta



                      Sta




                     Source: Department of Education.
                     Note: GAO analysis of Education’s BPS 1995-96 data.


                     After controlling for other factors, we found that disadvantaged students
                     were no less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than other students.
                     However, as we have noted, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are
                     less likely to attend college in the first place.


                     While states and 4-year colleges and universities are employing various
States and 4-Year    methods to foster bachelor’s degree completion, information on the
Institutions Had     effectiveness of these efforts is limited. Over two-thirds of the states
                     responding to our survey reported having at least one effort in place to
Various Methods to   foster bachelor’s degree completion. Half the states indicated additional
Foster Bachelor’s    actions they would like to take to foster bachelor’s degree completion, but
                     cited state budget constraints as a factor preventing them from moving
Degree Completion    forward. As a way to foster bachelor’s degree completion, 4-year colleges
                     and universities we visited were engaged in activities designed to improve
                     the learning experience for students and strengthen support of students. In



                     Page 14                                               GAO-03-568 College Completion
                              some cases, officials attributed increases in retention to their efforts to
                              foster completion.


States Are Using a Variety    Thirty-four of the 48 states responding to our survey, including the 5 states
of Efforts to Foster          we visited—Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia—reported
Bachelor’s Degree             having at least one effort in place to foster bachelor’s degree completion.
                              Most of these states reported efforts that fell into three broad categories:
Completion, but Would         (1) efforts to increase the overall number of college graduates by
Like to Do More               increasing the number of students entering postsecondary education;
                              (2) efforts to help colleges improve their performance in retaining and
                              graduating students; and (3) efforts to help individual students remain in
                              college and to encourage timely completion for these students. While
                              states reported that almost half of their approaches have been evaluated,
                              the instances where states provided specific evaluation results were
                              limited. Half of the states indicated that there were additional actions they
                              would like to take to foster bachelor’s degree completion, but cited state
                              budget constraints as a factor preventing them from moving forward.

States Seek to Increase the   Nineteen states have efforts to increase the number of bachelor’s degrees
Number of Students Entering   awarded by increasing the number of students enrolling in postsecondary
Postsecondary Education       education. This approach includes efforts such as increasing the number
                              of students ready for college, educating students and parents about college
                              requirements and costs, and providing financial assistance to help cover
                              college costs.

                              Increasing student readiness for college. Some states have efforts to
                              improve the academic readiness of students so that more students have
                              the opportunity to attend college. Kentucky has a P-16 partnership that
                              focuses on aligning standards between high school and college to ensure
                              students are academically prepared for college.15 Kentucky reported in our
                              survey that the state had aligned high school graduation standards with
                              college admissions standards by creating a single high school curriculum
                              for all students. The state has adopted an online diagnostic test designed
                              for sophomores and juniors to test their readiness for college mathematics
                              in time to improve these skills and avoid remedial placement in college.
                              Oregon has implemented proficiency-based admissions standards that



                              15
                               The terms “K-16” or “P-16” describe a movement by educators, political officials, and
                              business leaders to work together in a more systemic way to strengthen educational
                              achievement from kindergarten or pre-school through completion of the college degree.




                              Page 15                                                 GAO-03-568 College Completion
specify certain knowledge and skills students should demonstrate for
admission to its public universities. The standards are intended to provide
more accurate information about student readiness for college and
encourage students to choose challenging coursework that will prepare
them for college. Oklahoma uses assessments in the eighth and tenth
grades to provide students feedback on their progress in preparing for
college. In addition to student feedback, colleges use assessment results to
improve curricula and instruction. The state reported that since this effort
began 10 years ago there have been increases in the number of high school
students taking college preparatory courses, particularly among black
students.

Educating students and parents about college. To increase the
numbers of students enrolling in postsecondary education and ultimately
completing a bachelor’s degree, some states are focusing on raising
awareness among students and parents about the benefits and costs of
postsecondary education. Texas, for example, has a plan that centers on
counseling students and their parents about what is necessary to enroll in
postsecondary education. The state provides information on the benefits
of postsecondary education, the academic preparation necessary for
enrolling, and the costs of attending, including information about available
financial aid and how to qualify. These efforts are designed to support its
goal of increasing its enrollment from just under 1 million students in
2000 by adding 500,000 new college students by 2015.

Providing financial aid for college. Financial assistance is another way
states seek to increase the number of students enrolling in college. Several
states have programs that provide monetary assistance to academically
qualified students based on academic merit, financial need, or some
combination of the two. For example, Oklahoma provides free tuition at
public institutions for students whose families have incomes below
$50,000 and meet other requirements, including completing a prescribed
high school course of study with at least a 2.5 grade point average.
Oklahoma reported that the performance of students in this program has
exceeded that of the general student population. Another example is the
West Virginia Higher Education Grant Program, which provides assistance
to academically qualified, but needy students who attend college in West
Virginia or Pennsylvania. West Virginia’s evaluation of the program
revealed that grant recipients had higher graduation rates than students
receiving other types of financial aid and students who received no
financial aid.




Page 16                                         GAO-03-568 College Completion
State Efforts to Help Colleges   Many states reported efforts to improve the performance of colleges in the
Improve Their Performance in     areas of retaining and graduating their students. Such efforts include
Retaining and Graduating         promoting accountability for colleges by collecting and, in some instances,
Students                         publishing retention and graduation rates. States also promote
                                 accountability by tying funding—mainly for public colleges—to
                                 performance. States are also sharing information with colleges about
                                 retention strategies to foster increased rates of bachelor’s degree
                                 completion.

                                 Promoting accountability for colleges. In order to hold colleges and
                                 universities accountable for their performance in the areas of student
                                 retention and graduation, states must first collect consistent information
                                 from these institutions. Three-fourths of the states that responded to our
                                 survey reported that they collect data that allow them to calculate and
                                 track retention and graduation rates for individual institutions and across
                                 the state. Specifically, 24 of these states reported that they collect
                                 enrollment and graduation data on individual students from public
                                 institutions only, and 9 states reported collecting these data from both
                                 public and private institutions in their states.16 Having these data allows
                                 the state to calculate retention and graduation rates for each institution
                                 and the system as a whole. Additionally, because the institutions provide
                                 the state with individual student records, the state can track the
                                 educational progress of a student who attends more than one institution.
                                 This enables the states to include transfer students in their graduation
                                 rate. The data are limited to student transfers within the state.

                                 Eighteen states reported that they promote accountability by publishing
                                 the performance of their colleges and universities on measures, including
                                 retention and graduation rates because some officials believe that this
                                 motivates colleges to improve their performance in those areas. In
                                 Virginia, a state that uses multiple accountability measures, officials told
                                 us that institutions are not compared with other institutions in the state
                                 with respect to the various performance measures. Rather, each institution
                                 works with the state to identify a national peer group of institutions with
                                 similar characteristics with which to be compared. In this way, institutions
                                 can see whether their performance is on par with institutions that have
                                 similar missions and serve similar types of students. In addition to



                                 16
                                   Additional states may collect summary data on graduation and retention rates from
                                 individual institutions, rather than collecting enrollment and graduation data for individual
                                 students that can be tracked across institutions.




                                 Page 17                                                    GAO-03-568 College Completion
                                   measuring retention and graduation rates, Virginia requires its public
                                   institutions to measure and report on certain student learning outcomes to
                                   demonstrate the value of each institution to its students.

                                   Nine states reported accountability efforts that have financial implications
                                   for colleges and universities to encourage them to graduate their students
                                   in a timely manner. These efforts include linking a portion of state funding
                                   to an institution’s performance on multiple measures or making incentive
                                   payments to institutions based on their performance in the areas of
                                   retention and completion. Tennessee has a performance-funding program
                                   in which institutions earn about 5 percent of their state funding for
                                   performance on multiple indicators, such as retention and graduation. In
                                   another variation, Pennsylvania provides a financial bonus to any 4-year
                                   institution in the state, whether public or private, that graduates more than
                                   40 percent of in-state students within 4 years.17

                                   Sharing retention strategies. Five states reported efforts to improve
                                   institutional performance by sharing information among state and college
                                   officials about strategies to help students remain in college. For example,
                                   the Oregon University System formed a retention work group to provide a
                                   forum for developing and sharing campus initiatives to enhance retention.
                                   The group has used annual systemwide and institutional data on retention
                                   and graduation to identify areas that need to be addressed to increase
                                   retention. The group looks at retention efforts that seem to be working on
                                   specific campuses and shares information with other campuses. As a
                                   result of its work with tribal governments to increase retention of Native
                                   American students, the system developed a Native American resource
                                   guide that includes information about topics such as outreach and
                                   retention efforts of colleges, financial assistance, childcare programs, and
                                   community college transfer procedures. Officials in Oregon attribute the
                                   increases in graduation rates at most campuses in the system to the work
                                   of this group.

State Efforts to Help Individual   Twenty-two states reported efforts directly aimed at helping students
Students Remain in College and     remain in college and encouraging timely completion for these students.
to Encourage Timely                Many such state-level programs provided funding to support efforts
Completion                         carried out by individual colleges, such as programs that provide academic
                                   and social support directly to students. Other efforts seek to ease student



                                   17
                                    Students who graduate within 5 years also count toward the bonus if they are in 5-year
                                   baccalaureate programs.




                                   Page 18                                                  GAO-03-568 College Completion
transfers among colleges, utilize technology to help students complete
their degree, or include financial incentives to encourage students to
complete their bachelor’s degrees in a timely manner.

Funding college programs that provide support services for
students. Several states provide funding for college-run programs
designed to support students in need of assistance. For example, through
its Access and Success program, the Maryland Higher Education
Commission provides funds to colleges and universities18 for the operation
of programs to increase retention and graduation rates of their
undergraduates. The colleges have used these funds to, among other
things, operate summer bridge programs that acclimate students to college
the summer before they enroll and provide advising, tutoring, and
counseling services to students who are already enrolled. New York’s
Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program, aimed at increasing the
number of low-income students who pursue careers in math, science,
technology, or health-related fields, provides funding for services such as
enriched science and math instruction, graduate school test preparation,
and career awareness.

Facilitating transfer among institutions. Seven states reported efforts
to facilitate transfer from one college to another as an approach to foster
bachelor’s degree completion. Officials in Florida told us that establishing
policies that help students transfer from community colleges to 4-year
institutions was important because the community college system is
considered the point of entry for most college students in the state. Florida
has common course numbering for all public institutions in the state and
requires public institutions to accept transfer credits for any course they
offer that a student completes at another institution. Officials told us this
policy prevents students from needlessly duplicating coursework, saving
both the state and students money, along with reducing the time it takes to
complete a degree. Florida also has a statewide policy that guarantees
admission to the state university system as a junior for any student who
completes an Associate of Arts degree. Officials in Florida told us that
without these policies it would be difficult for community college students
or other transfer students to complete their degrees. They acknowledged,
however, that these policies could be at odds with encouraging timely



18
 Historically Black Colleges and Universities are defined as, among other things, any
college or university that was established prior to 1964 and whose principal mission was,
and is, the education of black Americans.




Page 19                                                   GAO-03-568 College Completion
                                degree completion because they make it easier for students to exit and
                                reenter postsecondary education.

                                Using distance learning. A few states reported using technology to
                                enhance access and make it easier for students to complete a degree.
                                Kentucky, for instance, has a virtual university and library that offers
                                credit courses and academic advising for those who work or have family
                                situations that may not allow them to come to campus. This also aids on-
                                campus students who need greater course availability. Students taking
                                advantage of these electronic offerings have grown from fewer than
                                300 students in 1999 to nearly 10,000 in 2002.

                                Using financial incentives to encourage students’ timely
                                completion. Some states have financial aid programs to encourage timely
                                degree completion. These programs may have time limits and/or may
                                require students to earn a minimum number of credits each year for
                                participation. For example, the University of Alaska Scholars Program,
                                targeted at the top 10 percent of high school graduates, offers financial aid
                                for eight semesters provided that the scholar remains in good standing.
                                Other states have programs that impose financial penalties if students
                                repeat coursework or take too long to graduate. Florida’s in-state students
                                must pay the full tuition rate—without state subsidies—for any courses
                                they repeat more than once. Utah requires that students who enroll for
                                credits in excess of 135 percent of what is usually needed for a degree pay
                                higher tuition for the excess credits. Texas passed a law designed to
                                encourage students to minimize the number of courses they take to
                                complete their degree. State residents who complete their coursework and
                                degrees in the state with no more than three attempted hours in excess of
                                the minimum required for graduation are eligible to apply for a
                                $1,000 tuition rebate from their institution. Officials told us that about
                                1,500 students received tuition rebates in the 2001-2002 academic year.

Half the States Would Like to   Twenty-four states listed at least one area in which they would like to do
Do More to Foster Bachelor’s    more to increase bachelor’s degree completion rates. Many of these
Degree Completion               desired actions dealt with increasing financial aid for students and
                                increased financial support to colleges to help their students succeed.
                                Some wanted to offer special funding for colleges that perform well in
                                certain areas related to retention and college completion. Others wanted
                                to improve preparation of high school graduates for college or improve
                                transitions from one level of education to another. Almost without
                                exception, the states cited state budget constraints as a significant factor
                                preventing them from moving forward with these actions.



                                Page 20                                          GAO-03-568 College Completion
Four-Year Institutions   Our visits to 11 colleges and universities in five states showed that
Foster Completion by     initiatives in these institutions cluster around two main approaches to
Improving Learning and   foster bachelor’s degree completion: (1) enhancing the learning
                         experience by creating smaller learning communities that foster greater
Support of Students      connections to the institution and (2) strengthening support of students to
                         promote academic success. In some cases, officials attributed increases in
                         retention rates or higher retention rates for certain groups of students to
                         these approaches.

Enhancing the Learning   Nearly all of the colleges and universities we visited were engaged in
Experience               efforts designed to enhance the learning experience for students, primarily
                         by creating smaller communities that foster greater connections to the
                         institution. These approaches aim to increase students’ engagement in
                         academics and provide them with a network of faculty and other students
                         who can support them academically and socially. These approaches are
                         employed both in and out of the classroom, and most focus on easing the
                         transition from high school to college for first-year college students.

                         Linking courses. Several of the colleges we visited are trying to enhance
                         the learning environment by giving students a small classroom experience
                         that will provide them greater opportunities to connect with faculty and
                         their peers, not unlike the experience they would have had in high school.
                         For example, Texas A & M University at Corpus Christi, a Hispanic Serving
                         Institution,19 requires all full-time, first-year students to enroll in learning
                         communities—clusters of three or four classes in which the course
                         content is linked. Students are typically enrolled in a large lecture course
                         with 150 or more students and two other courses with 25 or fewer
                         students from the lecture course. In addition to covering course content,
                         instructors help students learn how to succeed in their first year of
                         college, helping with topics such as study skills on an as needed basis.

                         Portland State University provides its students smaller learning
                         communities in the freshman and sophomore years through its University
                         Studies program. According to officials there, the university developed the
                         program in 1994 to address disappointing retention rates from the
                         freshman to sophomore year. Officials told us that, because few students
                         live on campus, the university has to create opportunities for students to



                         19
                           Hispanic Serving Institutions are defined as having at least 25 percent of their full-time
                         equivalent students who are Hispanic, of which no less than 50 percent are low-income
                         individuals.




                         Page 21                                                     GAO-03-568 College Completion
connect to the campus via the classroom. The required freshman and
sophomore courses are comprised of 35-40 students who meet as a whole
with faculty and in smaller mentor sessions, led by upper-level or graduate
students. Officials told us they think the upper-level students who serve as
peer mentors for the freshman classes are particularly helpful for many
first-generation college students who attend the university and may find
college more difficult to navigate.

Officials at both universities reported positive outcomes for these learning
programs. Specifically, at Texas A & M students withdrew from the large
lecture courses at lower rates and had higher grades in these courses
when taken as part of the learning community. They also attributed
retention rates for first-year minority students that are on par with other
first-year students to the learning communities. At Portland State, officials
attributed increases in retention from the freshman to sophomore year, as
well as from the sophomore to junior year, to its University Studies
program.

Using service learning. Connecting classroom learning to the
community is another approach colleges are taking to enhance the
learning experience and create a sense of belonging. The Regional
Ecosystem Applied Learning Corps was established in 1997 through
partnership between Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon, and
community and government organizations. This AmeriCorps20 program
engages students in the classroom and through community-based projects
dealing with land management issues. One student, who went to college
directly from high school but left after 2 years, told us that the Regional
Ecosystem Applied Learning Corps played a large part in his decision to
finish his bachelor’s degree because it allowed him to connect his studies
to the community while working. He noted that it was difficult to return
after a 4-year break because college life felt unfamiliar to him.

Providing residential learning opportunities. For those students who
live on campus, some colleges are aiming to improve the learning
experience by enhancing educational opportunities available to students
in the residence halls. Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida,
instituted its first “living-learning community” in a residence hall in the fall



20
 AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that engage about 50,000
Americans each year in intensive service to meet critical needs in education, public safety,
health, and the environment.




Page 22                                                    GAO-03-568 College Completion
                           of 1997 as a way to provide freshmen with a smaller community that
                           would facilitate connections with faculty and students. An official at the
                           institution told us that the size of the institution is an obstacle in retaining
                           students because it is easy for students at a large research university with
                           over 36,000 students to feel lost. Students live in a residence hall together
                           and have to take at least one class in the building. Required weekly
                           meetings help students navigate services available to them on the campus.
                           Florida State reported that 5 years after the freshman class of 1997 entered
                           the institution, 77 percent of students who participated in the first living-
                           learning community had graduated, while the graduation rates of other on-
                           campus students and those living off campus was around 60 percent.21

                           Promoting Scholarship. The University of Maryland-Baltimore County
                           established the Meyerhoff Scholars Program to increase the numbers of
                           minorities pursuing doctoral study in math, science, engineering, and
                           computer science.22 In addition to the academic requirements, the scholars
                           participate in activities designed to expose them to scientific careers, such
                           as field trips and research experiences. University officials credit the
                           program with much of the success the university has had with minority
                           students—the 6-year graduation rate is higher for black students than for
                           white. Officials attribute part of this success to the role Meyerhoff scholars
                           play in motivating other minority students at the institution.

Strengthening Support of   All of the colleges and universities we visited were engaged in efforts to
Students                   strengthen support of their students to ensure their academic success and
                           retention. Colleges support their students by providing services such as
                           academic advising, financial aid counseling, and academic support
                           services such as tutoring. Colleges also provide supports designed to ease
                           the transition from high school or community college to a 4-year
                           institution. In some cases, colleges are changing how they deliver support
                           services to ensure the needs of students are met. For example, colleges
                           may colocate many of their support services to make it easy for students
                           to access them.




                           21
                            Florida State reported that the comparison groups were randomly selected and there was
                           no difference among the three groups in terms of SAT scores. However, because students
                           decide whether to participate in a living-learning community, the effects of self-selection
                           cannot be ruled out.
                           22
                            The scholarship program is open to students of any race.




                           Page 23                                                   GAO-03-568 College Completion
Colocating support services. During our site visits, we found that
several of the institutions we visited are colocating support services to
make it easier for students to access those services. In 2000, Prairie View
A & M University, a historically black institution in Prairie View, Texas,
implemented a comprehensive support system for freshmen. By groups of
100-125 students, freshmen are assigned to 1 of 12 academic teams. These
teams consist of a professional adviser, residence hall staff, and a faculty
fellow. The groups generally live together in residence halls close to all the
services they might need, such as advising, academic support services
such as tutoring, and financial aid counseling. Advisers work closely with
the learning community manager and two community assistants,
professional staff who reside in each hall. Officials think having advisers
and residence hall staff working together provides many opportunities to
intervene with students in time to get them connected with the services
they need.

Consolidating offices. Some of the institutions have also made
organizational changes to ensure that most of the offices providing
support to students are working together. The University of Central
Florida, for example, merged the student affairs office with the enrollment
management office and, according to officials, having this one office
responsible for recruitment and retention ensures that a wide range of
efforts can be coordinated across the cycle of student life.

Improving academic advising. Most of the colleges we visited had made
changes to improve academic advising services provided to students with
the idea that students need consistent and accurate advisement to stay on
the path to graduation. To respond to student complaints that advisers in
their majors did not know enough about general graduation requirements,
Florida State University centrally hired a total of 40 full-time advisers to
work in the individual departments. According to one official, when
individual departments hired advisers, the amount of time spent advising
students declined over time as other responsibilities were assigned to
those advisers. Retaining central control of the advisers ensures that
advising is consistently available to students and that students receive
advisement on both departmental and nondepartmental issues. Portland
State University developed a system that allows students to stay abreast of
where they are in terms of graduating. Advisers can use the system to help
students develop a course plan and identify any remaining coursework
they need for graduation.

Using proactive intervention strategies. Many of the institutions we
visited have approaches designed to proactively intervene with students in


Page 24                                          GAO-03-568 College Completion
an effort to retain them to graduation. Several of the institutions reported
that they have a warning system in place to identify students whose mid-
term grades or cumulative grade point averages drop below a certain level.
These students are contacted and encouraged to meet with an adviser and
to make them aware of the different services available to help them.
Contacting students by telephone is an approach some of the smaller
institutions we visited employ to intervene with students. For example,
Southern Oregon University, in Ashland, Oregon, is proactive in calling
students who are not attending classes based on faculty reports. To
improve its 6-year graduation rate, Coppin State College, an historically
black institution, in Baltimore, Maryland, has been contacting those
students who have not pre-registered for the fall semester, but are within
reach of graduating within 6 years of when they started. Officials believe
calling students lets them know that someone at the college is interested
in them as an individual and reinforces their commitment to return.

Providing academic support services. Most institutions cited academic
support services as an approach to retaining students. Examples of these
services include tutoring, walk-in centers that provide assistance with
areas like writing and math, and programs that support special
populations such as low-income and first-generation college students.
Over half of the institutions we visited provide these types of services to
students before they have enrolled in college to ease the transition from
high school to college. In these summer bridge programs, students
typically take a couple of courses, along with seminars that cover topics
designed to help them succeed in college, such as time management and
study skills. Generally, fewer than 100 students participate in these
programs, which allows the institution to provide more intensive and
personalized services. Institutions generally reported that the retention
rate from the freshman to sophomore year for these students is
comparable to or higher than the general population. A couple of
institutions reported higher graduation rates for these students, but some
officials noted that their 6-year graduation rates may lag because some of
these students take longer to graduate.

Easing the transition for transfer students. Some institutions are
engaged in efforts to encourage and ease the transition of students from a
2-year institution to a 4-year institution. For example, the University of
Central Florida has forged relationships with area community colleges and
has established satellite campuses at community colleges in Orlando and
the surrounding area. The university’s satellite campuses are designed for
those students for whom transferring to a 4-year college may be difficult
because of work and family commitments. The university has dedicated


Page 25                                         GAO-03-568 College Completion
                          faculty and staff at these satellite campuses to ensure students receive the
                          same education and services they would at the main campus. Advisers
                          who travel among the satellite campuses ensure that students can obtain
                          academic advising without traveling to the main campus.


                          Education fosters bachelor’s degree completion through programs that
Education Has             provide financial and academic support to students, but little is known
Programs to Foster        about the effects of these programs on college completion. Education has
                          also established goals for increasing college completion and strengthening
College Completion,       the accountability of colleges. While Education has some dissemination
but No Systematic         efforts—mainly through its academic support programs and through its
                          Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education program—it does
Efforts to Identify and   not have systematic efforts in place to identify and share promising
Disseminate               practices in the areas of retention and graduation with states and colleges
Information on            that are looking for strategies to help them better retain their students.

Promising Practices

Programs Provide          In order to help students pay for a college degree, the federal student aid
Financial Resources and   programs provide billions of dollars to help students finance college with
Academic Support to       the objective that students will complete their programs. The Federal
                          Family Education Loan Program and the William D. Ford Federal Direct
Students, but Little Is   Loan Program, two major federal student loan programs authorized in
Known about Their         Title IV of the Higher Education Act, together provided student borrowers
Effectiveness             with about 9 million new loans totaling $35 billion in fiscal year 2001. The
                          Pell Grant Program, designed to help the neediest undergraduate students,
                          expended $8 billion to provide grants to nearly 4 million students in
                          2000-2001. To be eligible for these programs, students must be enrolled in
                          a degree- or certificate-granting program. While Education has made these
                          funds available, we reported in September 2002 that little information is
                          available on the relative effectiveness of Title IV grants and loans in
                          promoting postsecondary attendance, choice, and completion, or their
                          impact on college costs.23 Among other things, we noted that data and
                          methodological challenges make it difficult to isolate the impact of grants
                          and loans.



                          23
                           U.S. General Accounting Office, Student Aid and Tax Benefits: Better Research and
                          Guidance Will Facilitate Comparison of Effectiveness and Student Use, GAO-02-751
                          (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 13, 2002).




                          Page 26                                                GAO-03-568 College Completion
Education administers three academic support programs aimed at
students who are low-income, first-generation, or disabled that have
college completion as a primary goal. Student Support Services provides
academic support to students at the college level, while the Upward
Bound program and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for
Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) serve students before they enter
college.24 GEAR UP differs from Student Support Services and Upward
Bound, which identify and invite individual students to participate. GEAR
UP serves an entire grade of students at participating schools beginning no
later than the seventh grade and follows them through high school.
According to program officials, the program begins no later than the
seventh grade because high school is too late to begin working with
students on the preparation that leads to college. Table 1 provides an
overview of the three programs.




24
  Student Support Services and Upward Bound are part of TRIO, a cluster of six
educational opportunity outreach programs designed to motivate and support students
from disadvantaged backgrounds through the educational pipeline. The other TRIO
programs have goals for, among other things, increasing enrollment in postsecondary
education, encouraging students to pursue undergraduate degrees in mathematics and
science, and increasing the attainment of doctoral degrees among certain groups of
students. While increasing college completion is not an explicit goal of these programs,
increases in completion for participating students may be an indirect result of the services
the programs provide.




Page 27                                                    GAO-03-568 College Completion
Table 1: Overview of Education Programs That Have College Completion as a Primary Goal

                                            Target                                                            FY 2002 funding                Students
 Program                 Purpose            population           Services provided                                (in millions)                served
 TRIO Student            Increase           Low-income, first-   Counseling, tutoring, supplemental                        $263               198,551
 Support                 graduation and     generation, or       grants for qualifying students.
 Services                retention rates.   disabled college
                                            students.
 TRIO Upward             Increase           High school          Instruction required in subjects such                      $264               56,324
 Bound                   postsecondary      students who are     as math, science, and composition.
                         enrollment and     from low-income      Services such as counseling,
                         success.a          families or from     tutoring, mentoring, assistance
                                            families where       completing financial aid and college
                                            neither parent has   entrance applications; information
                                            a college degree.    on postsecondary opportunities, and
                                                                 work study positions.
 GEAR UP                 Increase the       Entire grades of     Relies on participating schools and                        $285             1,236,606
                         number of low-     students at          partners to provide services that
                         income students    participating low-   promote academic preparation and
                         who are prepared   income schools       an understanding of college costs,
                         to enter and       starting no later    provide professional development,
                         succeed in         than the seventh     and continuously build capacity to
                         postsecondary      grade.               sustain projects beyond the grant
                         education.                              term. Also provides scholarships for
                                                                 participants who enroll in
                                                                 postsecondary education.
Source: Department of Education.
                                                 a
                                                  Education interprets success as graduating from institutions of postsecondary education.


                                                 In 2001, Student Support Services added a financial assistance component
                                                 as a tool to increase retention and graduation of student participants.
                                                 Specifically, Student Support Services permits the use of grant aid for
                                                 current Student Support Services participants who are already receiving
                                                 federal Pell Grants. These funds are intended to increase retention and
                                                 graduation by reducing the amount of financial need or money eligible
                                                 participants have to borrow in their first 2 years of study.25

                                                 Student Support Services is the only program for which information on the
                                                 effectiveness of the program on college completion is available.
                                                 Specifically, a preliminary evaluation of the program found that
                                                 participants had higher bachelor’s degree completion rates as compared to
                                                 a control group of similar students not receiving those services. However,



                                                 25
                                                   Institutions can award funds to students who have completed their first 2 years of study if
                                                 they can demonstrate that the students are at high risk for dropping out and the needs of
                                                 students in the first 2 years of study have been met.




                                                 Page 28                                                         GAO-03-568 College Completion
                            it is too early to determine the impact of the grant aid component of the
                            program, given that it was first implemented in the 2001-2002 academic
                            year. According to Education officials, it is also too early to determine the
                            impact of Upward Bound and GEAR UP on college completion because
                            students are not expected to have completed college yet.26


Education Has Identified    In its 2002-2007 strategic plan, Education has established goals of reducing
Priorities for Increasing   the gaps in college participation and completion among certain student
College Completion and      populations and increasing completion rates overall. Education has
                            identified some strategies for meeting these goals, such as focusing on
Strengthening               improving the K-12 system, improving the readiness of low-income and
Accountability of           minority students for college, and improving the effectiveness of support
Institutions                services for low-income and minority students. The performance
                            measure—institutional graduation rates—Education uses for assessing its
                            progress toward the goal of increasing completion rates understates the
                            percentage of students who actually complete bachelor’s degrees, because
                            the measure does not account for students who transfer and complete
                            their degrees at institutions different from where they started. However,
                            this is the only information available on an annual basis. Other
                            longitudinal studies, such as BPS, provide more information but are costly
                            to administer. Education has not established other performance measures
                            for assessing progress toward its college completion goal.

                            Education has also established a goal for strengthening accountability of
                            postsecondary institutions in its strategic plan. Specifically, Education is
                            looking to ensure that colleges are graduating their students in a timely
                            manner. Education thinks making information on student achievement
                            and attainment available to the public is one way to hold institutions
                            accountable for their performance because prospective students can use
                            this information to make informed choices about where to attend college.
                            Education has begun to discuss this issue with the higher education
                            community and asked the community for ideas on how to strengthen
                            accountability of postsecondary institutions. As part of its efforts,


                            26
                              A 1999 review of Upward Bound conducted for Education concluded that while the
                            program did not increase enrollments among participants, it did have positive results for
                            students who enrolled in college. Among other things, Upward Bound participants at 4-year
                            colleges earned more nonremedial credits than a control group. The study authors
                            stressed, however, that these results should be interpreted with caution because only about
                            one-fourth of the students in the study had entered college at the time they were last
                            contacted, and one-third were still in high school. Results from a more recent followup
                            were not available in time to be included in this report.




                            Page 29                                                  GAO-03-568 College Completion
                        Education has held panel discussions with student financial aid experts,
                        state officials, and business leaders, among other participants, about
                        improving accountability. Additionally, Education is considering
                        “performance-based grants” to provide incentives to colleges for timely
                        graduation. In one state, however, where this was tried, there were
                        concerns that the grant created perverse incentives to increase graduation
                        rates, such as reducing the number of credits required for graduation.


Education Has Some      Education has some efforts to disseminate information on retention and
Evaluation and          completion; however, it does not have a systematic effort in place to
Dissemination Efforts   identify and disseminate promising practices in these areas. Education has
                        commissioned studies on the factors that affect college completion, and it
                        has some evaluations on student retention—for example, one study
                        dealing with retention strategies for students with disabilities and one on
                        Hispanic students. It has not, however, systematically conducted research
                        to determine what strategies have been effective in helping colleges and
                        universities retain their students. Additionally, Education has some
                        retention and completion dissemination efforts in place. For example,
                        GEAR UP and TRIO grantees have the opportunity to share information
                        with each other at annual conferences organized by private groups.
                        Education facilitates information sharing through the TRIO Dissemination
                        Partnership Program, which provides funding for TRIO grantees with
                        promising practices to work with other institutions and community-based
                        organizations that serve low-income and first-generation college students
                        but do not have TRIO grants. The program is intended to increase the
                        impact of TRIO programs by reaching more low-income, first-generation
                        college students. Only a small number of grantees are disseminating
                        information through this program—in fiscal year 2002, Education provided
                        $3.4 million to 17 grantees. In these instances, only institutions and
                        organizations that formally partner with grantees are likely to have the
                        opportunity to learn about promising practices. Furthermore, promising
                        practices that are employed by institutions outside these programs are not
                        captured.

                        According to agency officials, another effort in which dissemination
                        occurs is within the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary
                        Education’s Comprehensive Program. This 30-year old program seeks to
                        help improve access and quality of postsecondary institutions by funding
                        small promising practices grants. According to an official of the
                        Comprehensive Program, the grants are for a 3-year period, with an
                        average annual award amount of between $50,000 and $200,000. Last year,
                        the program awarded $31 million for grant activities—including new


                        Page 30                                        GAO-03-568 College Completion
              awards of about $10 million. The grants cover all aspects of postsecondary
              improvement, and within the areas of retention and completion there are
              grants for, among other things, creating learning communities, reviewing
              remedial and introductory courses to find more effective approaches, and
              developing innovative methods of delivering support services.
              Dissemination efforts include a searchable project database on its Web
              site; four published volumes of promising practices (the most recent
              publication was in 2000); specific dissemination grants expressly aimed at
              replicating particularly promising practices for retention and completion;
              dissemination plans built into the actual grants; and annual meetings
              where project information is shared. Each grant has an evaluation
              component and the Comprehensive Program is currently being reviewed
              for, among other things, the efficacy of these evaluation efforts.


              As policymakers and others consider what is necessary to ensure
Conclusions   accountability in higher education, the issue of how to measure
              performance becomes more important. While some states have used
              graduation rates to promote accountability, such measures may not fully
              reflect an institution’s performance. Graduation rates do not capture
              differences in mission, selectivity, programmatic offerings, or student
              learning outcomes. Nor do they account for another goal of higher
              education, increasing participation. In other words, a college or university
              could have a low rate of completion, but still be providing access. As
              policymakers consider ways to hold colleges and universities accountable
              for their performance, it may be possible to use multiple measures that
              capture an institution’s performance in regard to how well its students are
              educated through the use of student learning outcomes, in addition to its
              performance in graduating them.

              States, institutions of higher education, and Education are engaged in a
              variety of efforts to retain and graduate students. Education does have
              some efforts to evaluate and disseminate information related to retention
              and completion; however, it does not systematically identify and
              disseminate information on those practices that hold promise for
              increasing retention and graduation rates across all sectors of higher
              education. Such information could benefit colleges and universities that
              are looking for new approaches to better serve their students and seek to
              avoid duplicating unsuccessful efforts. As policymakers consider new
              ways to hold postsecondary institutions accountable for retaining and
              graduating their students, it becomes more important to widely
              disseminate promising practices in these areas. Having Education identify
              and disseminate promising practices in the areas of retention and


              Page 31                                         GAO-03-568 College Completion
                  graduation would help ensure that all colleges and universities have
                  access to the same level of information and can readily draw on those
                  practices they think might help them better serve their students.


                  As Education moves forward with its plan to hold colleges and universities
Recommendations   accountable for their performance in graduating their students, we
                  recommend that the Secretary of Education consider multiple measures
                  that would help account for other goals of higher education, such as
                  increasing participation, as well as differences in mission, selectivity, and
                  programmatic offerings of postsecondary institutions. Education should
                  work with states and colleges to determine what would be most helpful
                  for strengthening the accountability of institutions and ensuring positive
                  outcomes for students.

                  We also recommend that the Secretary of Education take steps to identify
                  and disseminate information about promising practices in the areas of
                  retention and graduation across all sectors of postsecondary education.


                  In written comments on a draft of this report, the Department of
Agency Comments   Education agreed with our recommendations but had some concerns
                  about certain aspects of the draft report. Education commented that we
                  could have included trend data on, for example, whether retention and
                  completion are increasing or decreasing. While such information might
                  have been interesting to include, we were specifically focusing on the
                  current status of college completion. Education suggested in its letter that
                  we could have used its two BPS studies for such an analysis. It would not
                  be appropriate to use these two studies for identifying trends because they
                  covered different time periods. For example, using the first BPS study—
                  which tracked students for 5 years—Education reported that 53 percent of
                  students who began at a 4-year institution in 1989-90 earned a bachelor’s
                  degree. Using the second BPS study—which tracked students for
                  6 years—we reported that 59 percent of students who began at a 4-year
                  institution in 1995-96 earned a bachelor’s degree. While the increase in
                  graduation rates might have resulted from any number of factors, the most
                  likely reason is because an additional year was included in the calculation.

                  The Department correctly noted that we did not address student financial
                  aid in our analysis. We have addressed this issue in our discussion of the
                  report’s objectives, scope, and methodology section (see app. I).




                  Page 32                                         GAO-03-568 College Completion
With respect to Education’s comment about how the effects of being
disadvantaged are accounted for in our analysis, we agree that performing
a more sophisticated analysis to account for the indirect effects of being
disadvantaged on completion may have yielded a more complete picture
of college completion. However, our analysis was designed to provide
overall descriptive information on completion rates while taking into
account certain differences among students.

Education had concerns that our report did not sufficiently recognize the
role of its Graduation Rate Survey (GRS). While we did not directly
discuss GRS, we did explain the legislative requirements regarding
institutional reporting of graduation rates. Education developed GRS to
help institutions comply with this requirement. Additionally, with respect
to GRS, we sought clarification of Education’s statement that GRS is the
basis for state efforts to track graduation rates; however, officials did not
provide us with information that would support this statement. In looking
at this issue, it is clear that the type of data states collect is different from
the GRS data. Specifically, GRS collects only summary data from
institutions on graduation rates, whereas by using data on individual
students, the states we highlighted have the ability to not only calculate
graduation rates but to track student transfers across the state.
Furthermore, officials in two states we visited told us that they have had
the ability to track individual students for over 10 years, long before
information from the GRS would have been available—making it
impossible for GRS to be the basis of these systems as Education
suggested. We also believe that Education’s statement that we do not
acknowledge the limitations of the state systems with respect to tracking
student transfers is inaccurate. Our draft clearly stated that tracking is
limited to student transfers within the state.

Finally, with regard to Education’s concern that our report does not
recognize its efforts to identify and disseminate information on retention
and completion, we believe Education may have misunderstood our
discussion about their efforts. We clearly highlight Education’s efforts to
identify and disseminate information through studies on the factors that
affect retention and completion. However, we conclude that Education
does not systematically identify and disseminate information on those
practices that hold promise for increasing retention and graduation rates
across all sectors of higher education.

Education also provided technical comments, which we incorporated
where appropriate. Education’s comments appear in appendix IV.



Page 33                                             GAO-03-568 College Completion
As arranged with your offices, unless you publicly announce its contents
earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days from its
issue date. At that time, we will send copies of this report to appropriate
congressional committees, the Secretary of Education, and other
interested parties. Copies will also be made available to others upon
request. In addition, this report will be available at no charge on GAO’s
Web site at http://www.gao.gov.

If you have any questions about this report, please contact me on
(202) 512-8403. Other contacts and acknowledgments are listed in
appendix V.




Cornelia M. Ashby
Director, Education, Workforce,
 and Income Security Issues




Page 34                                           GAO-03-568 College Completion
              Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Methodology



Methodology

              You asked us to determine (1) the extent to which students—including
              those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds—who enroll in a 4-year
              college or university complete a bachelor’s degree and the factors that
              affect bachelor’s degree completion; (2) what states and 4-year colleges
              and universities are doing to foster bachelor’s degree completion and what
              is known about the effectiveness of these efforts; and (3) what the U.S.
              Department of Education is doing to foster bachelor’s degree completion.

              To determine the extent to which students—including those from lower
              socioeconomic backgrounds—who enroll in a 4-year college or university
              complete a bachelor’s degree and to identify the factors that affect
              bachelor’s degree completion, we analyzed Education’s 1995-96 Beginning
              Postsecondary Students (BPS) study. BPS is a longitudinal study1 that
              followed the retention and degree completion of students from the time
              they enrolled in any postsecondary institution over a 6-year period. It is
              based on a sample of students who were enrolled in postsecondary
              education for the first time in 1995-1996 and participated in Education’s
              1995-96 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:96). NPSAS:96
              consisted of a nationally representative sample of all students enrolled in
              postsecondary education during the 1995-96 academic year. Information
              for NPSAS:96 was obtained from more than 830 postsecondary institutions
              for approximately 44,500 undergraduate and 11,200 graduate and first-
              professional students. The sample of undergraduates represented about
              16.7 million students, including about 3 million first-time beginning
              students, who were enrolled at some time between July 1, 1995 and June
              30, 1996. This BPS study began with a sample of approximately
              12,000 students who were identified in NPSAS: 96 as having entered
              postsecondary education for the first time in 1995-1996. Education
              followed up with these students via computer-assisted telephone
              interviews in both 1998 and 2001. In addition to obtaining data from
              students through these interviews, data were obtained from other sources,
              including institutions and the Educational Testing Service, which
              administers standardized tests, such as the SAT I and Advanced Placement
              tests. Education has published reports that provide information about
              student enrollment and the rates of persistence, transfer, and degree
              attainment for students.




              1
               The first BPS study tracked the educational attainment of a group of students who first
              enrolled in postsecondary education in 1989-90. The next scheduled BPS study will follow
              students who first enroll in postsecondary education in the 2003-04 school year.




              Page 35                                                 GAO-03-568 College Completion
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




For our purposes, we analyzed a subset of these data. We only included
students who in 1995-96 were enrolled in a 4-year institution or were
enrolled at another type of institution, but transferred to a 4-year
institution at some point during the 6-year period. Our analysis excluded
other types of students, such as community college students who did not
transfer to a 4-year institution because the focus of our study was on
bachelor’s degree completion. We first grouped students into three
categories: those who, after 6 years (1) had completed a bachelor’s degree;
(2) had not completed a bachelor’s degree, but were still enrolled in a
4-year institution; and (3) had not completed a bachelor’s degree and were
no longer enrolled in a 4-year institution. We then calculated the
percentage of our population in each group overall and by various
characteristics relating to personal background, academic preparation and
performance, college attendance and work patterns, and social integration
as shown in appendix II.

We focused on factors that affect whether or not students completed a
bachelor’s degree by the end of the 6-year period and looked at the effect
of the various characteristics mentioned above on college completion. We
did not include student aid variables in our analysis. Resource constraints
and the timing of the release of the BPS data made it difficult to examine
the effect of student aid variables given their complexity and year-to-year
variation. We first examined the independent effect of each characteristic
on completion without controlling for differences among individuals. Each
of these independent effects, with the exception of delaying entry into
college, was statistically significant. However, because of the strong
relationships among these characteristics, it is more accurate to explain
the variance in completion rates using multivariate analysis, which tests
the effect of each characteristic on completion while controlling for the
effects of all the other characteristics.

Logistic regression is a standard procedure used to estimate the effect of a
characteristic on a particular outcome. The model uses odds ratios to
estimate the relative likelihood of completing a bachelor’s degree within
6 years of beginning postsecondary education. The odds ratios for various
characteristics are shown in appendix III. For a particular characteristic, if
there were no difference between students who completed within 6 years
and those who did not, the odds would be equal, and the ratio of their odds
would be 1.00. The more the odds ratio differs from 1.00 in either
direction, the larger the effect on completion. For example, an odds ratio
below 1.00 indicates a lower likelihood of completion for a student with
that particular characteristic, all else being equal. The odds ratios were
generally computed in relation to a reference group; for example, if the


Page 36                                          GAO-03-568 College Completion
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




odds ratio refers to being a dependent student, then the reference group
would be independent students. Some characteristics, such as grade point
average and age, are continuous in nature. In these cases, the odds ratio
can be interpreted as representing the increase in the likelihood of
completing college given a 1-unit increase in the continuous variable. An
odds ratio that is statistically significant is denoted with the superscript a.
The characteristics we used in our model explain 38 percent of the
variance in bachelor’s degree completion.

Because the estimates we use in this report are based on survey data,
there is some sampling error associated with them. This occurs because
observations are made on a sample of students rather than the entire
student population. All percentage estimates we present from the BPS
data have sampling errors of ±3 percentage points or less, unless
otherwise noted. Furthermore, tests of statistical significance were
performed using software to take into account the complex survey design
and sampling errors. In addition to the reported sampling errors, the
practical difficulties of conducting any survey may introduce other types
of errors, commonly referred to as nonsampling errors. For example,
differences in how a particular question is interpreted, in the reliability of
data self reported by students, or the types of students who do not
respond can introduce unwanted variability into the survey results.

To identify what states and 4-year colleges and universities are doing to
foster bachelor’s degree completion, we conducted a survey of the 59 state
higher education executive officer agencies in all 50 states, the District of
Columbia, and Puerto Rico and visited 5 states and 11 public colleges and
universities within those states.2 We received completed questionnaires
from 48 of the 52 states and territories we surveyed, a response rate of
92 percent. We took steps in the development of the questionnaires, the
data collection, and the data editing and analysis to minimize nonsampling
errors. For example, we pretested the questionnaire with 3 states to refine
the survey instrument, and we called individual respondents, if necessary,
to clarify answers.



2
 The population for our survey was the membership list of the State Higher Education
Executive Officers association, a nonprofit, national association of the chief executive
officers serving statewide coordinating and governing boards of postsecondary education.
Seven states have two association agencies, and we received responses from both agencies
in four states. In none of these cases did the responses conflict with one another. We
combined multiple responses from one state into a single unified response for that state.
We checked with each respondent to obtain approval for this procedure.




Page 37                                                 GAO-03-568 College Completion
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




We conducted site visits in Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia.
We chose states and colleges to visit based upon our discussions with
experts and preliminary information from our survey. Additionally, we
selected these states and institutions based on geographic dispersion and
the variety of efforts reported to us by experts and in the survey. In each
state, we met with state higher education officials to discuss college
completion in general and specific efforts taking place in their states. In
each of these states, we also visited colleges that were viewed by state
officials as doing particularly well in working with their students to help
them complete a bachelor’s degree. We met with college officials to
discuss their efforts to improve retention and help students attain a
bachelor’s degree.

To identify what Education is doing to foster bachelor’s degree
completion, we talked with Education officials and reviewed program and
planning documents. We conducted our work between April 2002 and May
2003 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing
practices.




Page 38                                        GAO-03-568 College Completion
                                     Appendix II: Bachelor’s Degree Completion
Appendix II: Bachelor’s Degree Completion
                                     Status of 1995-96 Beginning Postsecondary
                                     Students 6 Years after Enrolling


Status of 1995-96 Beginning Postsecondary
Students 6 Years after Enrolling

Numbers in percent
                                    Student                                           No bachelor’s,      No bachelor’s,
                               population by        Completed      Did not complete   still enrolled at   not enrolled at
Characteristic                 characteristic       bachelor’s           bachelor’s             4-year           4-yeara
Overall percentage                                         52                    48                 14                34
Background characteristics
Sex
   Female                                  52                57                  43                 18                25
   Male                                    48                47                  53                 25                29
Race
   White, non-Hispanic                     73                55                  45                 20                25
   Black, non-Hispanic                     10                38                  62                 23                40
   Hispanic                                10                40                  60                 28                32
   Asian/Pacific Islander                   6                55                  45                 25                20
   Other                                    1                58                  42                 11                30
Age when first enrolled
   18 and under                            77                59                  41                 19                22
   19                                      12                36                  64                 30                34
   20-23                                    6                21                  79                 33                46
   24-29                                    2                27                  73                 33                40
   30 and over                              3                15                  85                 33                52
Socioeconomic status disadvantaged index
   Not disadvantaged                       58                58                  42                 20                22
   Disadvantaged                           42                44                  56                 23                33
Dependent statusb
   Dependent                               90                56                  44                 20                25
   Independent, no children                 4                22                  78                 35                43
   Independent, married with
   children                                3                 23                  77                 36                41
   Independent, not married,
   with children                           3                 21                  79                 36                43
First generation to attend college
   No                                      57                59                  41                 21                19
   Yes                                     43                43                  57                 22                35
Academic preparation & performance
High school completion
   Diploma                                 97                53                  47                 21                25
   GED/Other                                3                27                  73                 27                46
   High school curriculum
   Did not meet new basics                 27                47                  53                 23                30
   Met new basics, not rigorous             7                48                  52                 19                33
   Slightly rigorous                       30                55                  45                 18                28
   Moderately rigorous                     19                65                  35                 18                17
   Highly rigorous                         16                81                  19                  8                11




                                     Page 39                                             GAO-03-568 College Completion
                                            Appendix II: Bachelor’s Degree Completion
                                            Status of 1995-96 Beginning Postsecondary
                                            Students 6 Years after Enrolling




Numbers in percent
                                           Student                                           No bachelor’s,      No bachelor’s,
                                      population by        Completed      Did not complete   still enrolled at   not enrolled at
Characteristic                        characteristic       bachelor’s           bachelor’s             4-year           4-yeara
High school grades
   A to A                                        26                 78                  22                 11                11
   A- to B                                       21                 60                  40                 18                23
   B to B-                                       11                 39                  61                 25                36
   B- to C                                        7                 33                  67                 26                41
   C to D                                        36                 37                  63                 29                35
SAT scorec
   Lowest quartile (<800)                        41                 32                  68                 30                38
   Middle quartiles (800-1100)                   41                 60                  40                 18                22
   Highest quartile (>1100)                      18                 79                  21                  9                12
First-year college GPA
   > 3.0                                         34                 71                  29                 16                13
   2.0 to 3.0                                    39                 51                  49                 22                27
   < 2.0                                         27                 29                  71                 27                44
Attendance & work patterns
                                  d
Delayed college after high school
   No                                            82                 59                  41                 18                23
   Yes                                           18                 24                  76                 35                41
College attendance
   Part-time or mix of part- and
   full-time                                     43                 34                  66                 35                32
   Full-time                                     57                 66                  34                 11                23
Continuous enrollment
   No                                            27                 15                  85                 45                40
   Yes                                           73                 66                  34                 12                22
Work during college
   Did not work                                  31                 61                  39                 16                24
   Less than 10 hours                            15                 61                  39                 14                25
   Between 10 and 19 hours                       17                 63                  37                 16                22
   Between 20 and 31 hours                       24                 41                  59                 30                29
   Full-time (32 hours or more)                  13                 28                  72                 34                38




                                            Page 40                                             GAO-03-568 College Completion
                                          Appendix II: Bachelor’s Degree Completion
                                          Status of 1995-96 Beginning Postsecondary
                                          Students 6 Years after Enrolling




 Numbers in percent
                                         Student                                                        No bachelor’s,         No bachelor’s,
                                    population by           Completed         Did not complete          still enrolled at      not enrolled at
 Characteristic                     characteristic          bachelor’s              bachelor’s                    4-year              4-yeara
 Transferred to a 4-year
 institution
    No                                          55                     69                       31                      9                     22
    Yes                                         45                     32                       68                     36                     32
 Social integration
 Participated in study groups
    No                                          33                     40                       60                     27                     33
    Yes                                         67                     59                       41                     18                     23
 Participated in collegiate clubs
    No                                          58                     41                       59                     26                     32
    Yes                                         42                     68                       32                     14                     18
Source: Department of Education.

                                          Note: GAO analysis of Education’s BPS 1995/96 data.
                                          a
                                           This includes students who were not enrolled in postsecondary education and those who were
                                          enrolled at a 2-year institution or less at the end of the 6-year period . These student may have
                                          earned an associate’s degree or certificate.
                                          b
                                          Student dependency status for federal financial aid during 1995-96. Students age 23 or younger
                                          were assumed to be dependent unless they met the independent student criteria, including being
                                          married or having legal dependents, other than a spouse.
                                          c
                                           Student’s SAT I combined score. This variable was derived as either the sum of SAT I verbal and
                                          mathematics test scores or the ACT Assessment (American College Testing program) composite
                                          score converted to an estimated SAT combined score using a concordance table. The primary source
                                          of data were from a match with the SAT files from the Educational Testing Service and the ACT test
                                          files of the American College Testing programs, supplemented by postsecondary institution reported
                                          and student-reported information. The quartiles were derived from the distribution of the test scores
                                          among the BPS cohort sample students.
                                          d
                                          Indicates whether student delayed enrollment in postsecondary education, as determined by receipt
                                          of a high school diploma prior to 1995 or reaching the age of 20 before December 31, 1995.




                                          Page 41                                                          GAO-03-568 College Completion
              Appendix III: Results of Regression Models
Appendix III: Results of Regression Models
              for Bachelor’s Degree Completion within 6
              Years of Beginning College


for Bachelor’s Degree Completion within 6
Years of Beginning College

                                                      Completed a
                                                       bachelor’s       Odds ratio-
                                                     degree within    independent         Odds ratio-
               Characteristic                              6 years          effect         net effect
               Background characteristics
               Sex
                                                                                      a             a
                  Female                                        57
                                                                                      b
                  Male                                          47             0.66              0.83
               Race
                                                                                      a             a
                  White, non-Hispanic                           55
                                                                                      b             b
                  Black, non-Hispanic                           38             0.48             0.62
                  Hispanic                                      40             0.53b             0.68
                  Asian/Pacific Islander                        55              0.99             0.76
                  Other                                         58              1.12             0.52
               Age
                  18 and under                                  59
                  19                                            36
                  20-23                                         21             0.86b             0.93
                  24-29                                         27
                  30 and over                                   15
               Socioeconomic status disadvantaged index
                                                                                      a             a
                  Not disadvantaged                             58
                                                                                      b
                  Disadvantaged                                 44             0.56              1.06
               Dependent statusc
                                                                                      a             a
                  Dependent                                     56
                                                                                      b
                  Independent, no children                      22             0.22
                  Independent, married with
                  children                                      23             0.24b             0.52
                  Independent, not married, with
                  children                                      21             0.21b
               First generation to attend college
                                                                                      a             a
                  No                                            59
                                                                                                 0.66
                                                                                      b                 b
                  Yes                                           43             0.51
               Academic preparation & performance
               High School Completion
                                                                                      a             a
                  Diploma                                       53
                                                                                      b
                  GED/Other                                     27             0.32              0.63
               High school curriculum
                  Did not meet New Basics                       47
                  Met New Basics, not rigorous                  48
                                                                                      b
                  Slightly rigorous                             55             1.39             1.14b
                  Moderately rigorous                           65
                  Highly rigorous                               81




              Page 42                                                GAO-03-568 College Completion
Appendix III: Results of Regression Models
for Bachelor’s Degree Completion within 6
Years of Beginning College




                                          Completed a
                                           bachelor’s       Odds ratio-
                                         degree within    independent         Odds ratio-
Characteristic                                 6 years          effect         net effect
High school grades
   A to A-                                          78
   A- to B                                          60
                                                                          b
   B to B-                                          39             2.08             1.17b
   B- to C                                          33
   C to D                                           37
SAT Scored
   Lowest quartile (<800)                           32
                                                                          b
   Middle quartiles (800-1100)                      60             1.41              1.03
   Highest quartile (>1100)                         79
First-year college GPA
   > 3.0                                            71
                                                                          b             b
   2.0 to 2.9                                       51             2.45             2.24
   < 2.0                                            29
Work & attendance patterns
Delayed college after high schoole
                                                                          a             a
   No                                               59
   Yes                                              24             0.99              1.01
College attendance
   Part-time or mix of part- and full-
                                                                          a             a
   time                                             34
   Full-time                                        66             3.89b            2.31b
Continuous enrollment
                                                                          a             a
   No                                               15
                                                                          b             b
   Yes                                              66            10.81             6.22
Work during college
                                                                          a             a
   Did not work                                     61
   Worked Less than 10 hours                        61              1.00             0.86
   Between 10 and 19 hours                          63              1.09             0.79
   Between 20 and 31 hours                          41             0.45b            0.62b
   Full-time (32 hours or more)                     26             0.25b            0.49b




Page 43                                                  GAO-03-568 College Completion
Appendix III: Results of Regression Models
for Bachelor’s Degree Completion within 6
Years of Beginning College




                                                    Completed a
                                                     bachelor’s       Odds ratio-
                                                   degree within    independent       Odds ratio-
    Characteristic                                       6 years          effect       net effect
    Transferred to a 4-year institution
                                                                                a                  a
      No                                                      69
                                                                                b
      Yes                                                     32            0.21              0.41b
    Social integration
    Participated in study groups
                                                                                a                  a
      No                                                      40
                                                                                b
      Yes                                                     59            2.17               0.99
    Participated in collegiate clubs
                                                                                a                  a
      No                                                      41
                                                                                b
      Yes                                                     68            3.04              1.54b
Source: Department of Education.

Note: GAO analysis of Education’s BPS 1995/96 data.
a
    denotes referent category.
b
    Odds ratio is statistically significant at p<=0.05.
c
Student dependency status for federal financial aid during 1995-96. Students age 23 or younger
were assumed to be dependent unless they met the independent student criteria, including being
married or having legal dependents, other than a spouse.
d
 Student’s SAT I combined score. This variable was derived as either the sum of SAT I verbal and
mathematics test scores or the ACT Assessment (American College Testing program) composite
score converted to an estimated SAT combined score using a concordance table. The primary source
of data were from a match with the SAT files from the Educational Testing Service and the ACT test
files of the American College Testing programs, supplemented by postsecondary institution reported
and student-reported information. The quartiles were derived from the distribution of the test scores
among the BPS cohort sample students.
e
Indicates whether student delayed enrollment in postsecondary education, as determined by receipt
of a high school diploma prior to 1995 or reaching the age of 20 before December 31, 1995.




Page 44                                                            GAO-03-568 College Completion
             Appendix IV: Comments from the Department of Education
Appendix IV: Comments from the
Department of Education




             Page 45                                              GAO-03-568 College Completion
Appendix IV: Comments from the Department of Education




Page 46                                              GAO-03-568 College Completion
Appendix IV: Comments from the Department of Education




Page 47                                              GAO-03-568 College Completion
                  Appendix V: GAO Contacts and Staff
Appendix V: GAO Contacts and Staff
                  Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments

                  Kelsey Bright, Assistant Director (202) 512-9037
Contacts          Debra Prescott, Analyst-in-Charge (202) 512-2972

                  In addition to those named above, Rebecca Ackley, Avrum Ashery, Patrick
Acknowledgments   diBattista, Kopp Michelotti, John Mingus, Luann Moy, Doug Sloane, and
                  Wendy Turenne made important contributions to this report.




(130131)
                  Page 48                                       GAO-03-568 College Completion
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