Colleges could benefit from new approaches to enrollment, says report

Although the number of college applications that universities are receiving has never been higher, graduation rates have remained stagnant. A new report published by the University of California Los Angeles' (UCLA) Higher Education Research Institute suggests that colleges may be able to improve their graduation rates by better understanding the kinds of students enrolling in their programs, reports Inside Higher Ed.

One of the key goals of the study, which collected data from the National Student Clearinghouse and UCLA's Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), was to find out whether colleges are actually improving student retention rates or attracting higher-quality candidates.

The issue of the college readiness of some freshmen enrolling in college degree programs has been the focus of intense debate recently, and Linda DeAngelo, assistant director of research at CIRP, says that colleges can more accurately determine how effective they are in retaining students by analyzing the data contained in the report.

"It lets them compare the expected rate of graduation to the real rate," DeAngelo told the news source. "One of the takeaways from this report is that there are persistent gaps that need to be addressed. We need to look at the populations that have these gaps to help them graduate."

One of the biggest gaps in student graduation data is that of the economic background of students. According to CNN Money, the gap between graduating students from privileged backgrounds and those from economically challenged families has never been wider.

Martha Bailey, an assistant professor of economics at Michigan State University, told the news outlet that while 54 percent of students from wealthier families earned their college degrees, only 9 percent of students from poorer backgrounds managed to graduate.

Bailey co-authored a study examining graduation rates during a time period from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. The report indicated that while the graduation rate of students from more privileged backgrounds rose substantially, the number of students from poorer families graduating increased only slightly during this same period.

One reason for this is that students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds tend to attend colleges with larger class sizes, offering students less individual attention.

"We've got a problem in that we get low-income kids to college, but they don't persist to graduation," Tim Smeeding, director for the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the news outlet. "It's harder for them to find their way through. They get discouraged and they drop out." 

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