Grad Rates Undervalue Nontraditional Students
A lot of people in Minnesota look to the graduation rates of our public colleges and universities to make decisions. Our legislators look at graduation rates to determine the allocation of state funding. Our employers look at graduation rates to judge the quality of education potential employees received. Our students look at graduation rates to decide what school of higher education to attend.
But colleges and universities with high on-time graduation rates are not the only schools that our state should be valuing. Graduation rates don’t paint a complete picture of how successful a school is at educating its students, because graduation rates are partially dependent on the demographics of an institution’s student body.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, of Minnesota’s public 4-year colleges, the University of Minnesota at Morris has the highest 4-year graduation rate at 53.5%. The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities has the highest 6-year graduation rate at 70.1%
Among Minnesota’s public 2-year colleges, Alexandria Community and Technical College has the highest graduation rate at 47.2%.
The University of Minnesota at Morris, The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, and Alexandria Community and Technical College are all schools with traditional student populations. The spring 2012 enrollment at Morris was composed with 96% of students who were under the age of 25. At the U of M – Twin Cities, the average student age is 24.1.
The Minnesota schools with the lowest graduation rates, the 2-year Century College with an 8.2% graduation rate, and the 4-year Metropolitan State University with a 4.0% graduation rate, have much older student populations. The average age of a student at Century is 26, and 42% of the students are over 25 years old. At Metropolitan State, the average student age is 32, with ages ranging from 15-72.
Schools serving returning students and part-time students are extremely important to our state. They offer educational opportunities for rural communities, and they help older students become more marketable. It turns out that some of the schools with the lowest graduation rates are doing the most to provide equitable access to higher education in Minnesota.