Paul L. Caron
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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Graduation Rates Are Rising, But Is That Because Standards Are Slipping?

Chronicle of Higher Education, Graduation Rates Are Rising, but Is That Because Standards Are Slipping?:

Since 1990, college students have been working more hours and studying fewer, arriving less academically prepared, and saddled with higher tuition and fees. So why have graduation rates been rising?

One possible explanation, offered in a preliminary working paper, is that colleges are lowering their standards, making it easier for students to earn degrees.

“As schools face increased scrutiny and, in some cases, increased funding incentives, they may be responding by increasing graduation rates,” the authors, two professors and a student in the economics department at Brigham Young University, wrote. “The lowest-cost way to increase graduation rates is through changing standards of degree receipt.” The fact that the biggest increases in graduation rates are happening at public institutions supports this interpretation, they wrote.

Their paper is being circulated by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University. The institute distributes papers for comment and discussion before they are peer-reviewed or published.

Jeffrey T. Denning, Eric R. Eide & Merrill Warnick (BYU), Why Have College Completion Rates Increased?:

College completion rates declined from the 1970s to the 1990s. We document that this trend has reversed—since the 1990s, college completion rates have increased.

Figure 2

We investigate the reasons for the increase in college graduation rates. Collectively, student characteristics, institutional resources, and institution attended do not explain much of the change. However, we document that standards for degree receipt may explain some of the change in graduation rates.

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