The Relationship Between 8-Year Graduation Rates and Economic Status/Race/Ethnicity

In our previous blog post, we introduced the IPEDS Outcome Measures, which extends graduation rate calculations out to 8 years while also including part-time and transfer students in the metrics. Across public universities in Texas, we saw that 57% of full-time, first-time entering students in the 2014 cohort completed their bachelor’s degree at their originating university within 6 years. That percentage increased to 59% when extending the timeframe to 8 yearsIn viewing the data in the previous post, it was apparent that several campuses saw larger increases in graduation rates when moving from 6-year to 8-year timeframes. 

For this new analysis, we reviewed the association between several variables (demographic, admissions, financial) and the outcome variable, which we defined as the percentage point increase from the 6-year to the 8-year graduation rates. We used the 2014 cohort data, which is the most recent year where 8-year graduation rates are available in the IPEDS data. In the 2014 FTIC cohort, two variables were more positively associated with the outcome variable: the percentage of Hispanic students in the incoming cohort, and the percentage of these students with family incomes below $30,000.

Percentage of Hispanic StudentsThe first visualization below shows a strong correlation between Hispanic student enrollment and increases in graduation rates from 6- to 8-year metrics. 

  • Most notably, the three Texas public universities that are located most closely to the border with Mexico have the 3-highest percentage point increases: UT El Paso (7 points from 44% to 51%), UT Rio Grande Valley (6 points from 48% to 54%), and Texas A&M International University (4 points from 46% to 50%).
  • Three other public universities tied TAMIU with 4 percentage point gains: UH Downtown (29% to 33%), Texas Women’s University (47% to 51%) and the University of Houston (62% to 66%).
  • On the low-end of the distribution, six universities experienced a minimal increase (1%) from 6- to 8-year graduation rates: TAMU (82% to 83%), UT Dallas (69% to 70%), SFASU (53% to 54), Tarleton State University (46% to 47%), UT Tyler (43% to 44%), and UH Victoria (22% to 23%).

Percentage of Family Income Below $30KThe IPEDS “Student Financial Aid” data breaks down family income into five categories: $0-$30,000, $30,001-$48,000, $48,001-$75,000, $75,001-$110,000, and $110,001 or more. The second tab above shows the positive correlation between the percentage of incoming students in the fall 2014 cohort with family incomes below $30,000 and increases in 6- to 8-year graduation rates. 

  • The same three campuses (UTEP, UTRGV, TAMIU) that had the highest percentage of Hispanic incoming students and largest growth in graduation rates were also three of the campuses with the highest percentage of incoming students in the 2014 cohort who had family incomes that were $30,000 or below.
  • While a strong relationship, the correlation between family income and increased graduation rates is not as strong as the relationship between percentage of Hispanic students and graduation rates. This can be seen in the greater dispersion of universities across the family income distribution at each percentage point increase threshold. 
  • For example, the University of North Texas (UNT) had the lowest percentage of family income below $30K at 19%, but they were in the upper half of the distribution of percentage point increases. By comparison, Angelo State University (ASU) had almost the highest percentage (59.8%) of its incoming students with family incomes below $30K, but they were in the lower half of the graduation rate increase distribution with a 2-percentage point increase. 

So What?

At first blush, the 2-percentage point increase in graduation rates statewide from 57% (6-year) to 59% (8-year) might appear to be relatively insignificant. However, for the almost 2,000 students from the 2014 cohort who finished their bachelor’s degree within 8 years instead of 6 years, those additional semesters beyond the traditional 6-year window helped them achieve academic success. For some of those graduates, earning the bachelor’s degree will have multi-generational impact. 

Even though the Outcome Measures in IPEDS have been around for the past eight years, the 6-year graduation rate remains the de facto measure of success for how universities are judged. The data presented above clearly show that campuses with higher percentages of Hispanic students and students with lower family incomes tend to benefit more by the longer runway to the end of an 8-year graduation cycle. As the demographics of Texas continue to change, state-level policymakers should consider adding 8-year graduation rate calculations to the current practice of only reporting up to 6-year graduation rates for public universities in Texas.

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