Skip to main content

Are Graduation Rates an Input or an Output?

It seems obvious: Students come in, and students go out. The type of students who enter your university are measured on lots of things, like test scores, GPA, ethnicity, and parental income, to name just a few. Universities are measured too, on lots of those same things, as well as others, including the graduation rate. Lots of people think the graduation rate is a function of what the university does or does not do, and in some sense, of course, they are correct: If you don't care about your students, or their progress, or you're not challenging their minds, they may leave.

But in another sense, it's also possible to think of outputs as a function of inputs. It's been suggested before by Malcolm Gladwell, for instance, that we often confuse selection effects with treatment effects:

Social scientists distinguish between what are known as treatment effects and selection effects. The Marine Corps, for instance, is largely a treatment-effect institution. It doesn’t have an enormous admissions office grading applicants along four separate dimensions of toughness and intelligence. It’s confident that the experience of undergoing Marine Corps basic training will turn you into a formidable soldier. A modelling agency, by contrast, is a selection-effect institution. You don’t become beautiful by signing up with an agency. You get signed up by an agency because you’re beautiful.
At the heart of the American obsession with the Ivy League is the belief that schools like Harvard provide the social and intellectual equivalent of Marine Corps basic training—that being taught by all those brilliant professors and meeting all those other motivated students and getting a degree with that powerful name on it will confer advantages that no local state university can provide. Fuelling the treatment-effect idea are studies showing that if you take two students with the same S.A.T. scores and grades, one of whom goes to a school like Harvard and one of whom goes to a less selective college, the Ivy Leaguer will make far more money ten or twenty years down the road.
The extraordinary emphasis the Ivy League places on admissions policies, though, makes it seem more like a modelling agency than like the Marine Corps, and, sure enough, the studies based on those two apparently equivalent students turn out to be flawed. How do we know that two students who have the same S.A.T. scores and grades really are equivalent? It’s quite possible that the student who goes to Harvard is more ambitious and energetic and personable than the student who wasn’t let in, and that those same intangibles are what account for his better career success. To assess the effect of the Ivies, it makes more sense to compare the student who got into a top school with the student who got into that same school but chose to go to a less selective one. Three years ago, the economists Alan Krueger and Stacy Dale published just such a study. And they found that when you compare apples and apples the income bonus from selective schools disappears.
Take a look at the interactive graph below, and see how strongly certain input characteristics are associated with graduation outputs.  What do you think?  You might also want to look at research from HERI at UCLA, especially the table on the bottom of page 23 in this publication.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Highly Rejective Colleges

If you're not following Akil Bello on Twitter, you should be.  His timeline is filled with great insights about standardized testing, and he takes great effort to point out racism (both subtle and not-so-subtle) in higher education, all while throwing in references to the Knicks and his daughter Enid, making the experience interesting, compelling, and sometimes, fun. Recently, he created the term " highly rejective colleges " as a more apt description for what are otherwise called "highly selective colleges."  As I've said before, a college that admits 15% of applicants really has a rejections office, not an admissions office.  The term appears to have taken off on Twitter, and I hope it will stick. So I took a look at the highly rejectives (really, that's all I'm going to call them from now on) and found some interesting patterns in the data. Take a look:  The 1,132 four-year, private colleges and universities with admissions data in IPEDS are incl

On Rankings, 1911, and Economic Mobility

If you're alive today, you have lived your whole life with college rankings.  Yes, even you.  You may not have knows you were living in the time of college rankings, but indeed, you have been, unless you were born before 1911 (or maybe earlier.)  If you're interested, you can read this Twitter thread from 2020 where I discuss them and include snippets of those 1911 rankings as well as those from 1957, written by Chesley Manly. You can read for yourself, or you can trust me, that in fact the rankings as we know them have been surprisingly consistent over time, and most people would have only minor quibbles with the ratings from 1911.  Perhaps that's because they have always tended to measure the same thing. But what if we did different rankings?  No, not like the Princeton Review where they make an attempt to measure best party school, or best cafeteria food, or worst social life.  Something more quantifiable and concrete, although still, admittedly, a hard thing to get rig

Freshman Migration, 1986 to 2020

(Note: I discovered that in IPEDS, Penn State Main Campus now reports with "The Pennsylvania State University" as one system.  So when you'd look at things over time, Penn State would have data until 2018, and then The Penn....etc would show up in 2020.  I found out Penn State main campus still reports its own data on the website, so I went there, and edited the IPEDS data by hand.  So if you noticed that error, it should be corrected now, but I'm not sure what I'll do in years going forward.) Freshman migration to and from the states is always a favorite visualization of mine, both because I find it a compelling and interesting topic, and because I had a few breakthroughs with calculated variables the first time I tried to do it. If you're a loyal reader, you know what this shows: The number of freshman and their movement between the states.  And if you're a loyal viewer and you use this for your work in your business, please consider supporting the costs