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September/ October 2013 A Note on Methodology: 4-Year Colleges and Universities

By the Editors

The predicted graduation rate measure is based on research by Robert Kelchen, assistant professor in the Department of Education Leadership, Management and Policy at Seton Hall University and methodologist for this year’s college guide, and Douglas N. Harris, associate professor at Tulane University. In addition to the percentage of Pell recipients and the average SAT score, the graduation rate prediction formula includes the percentage of students receiving student loans, the admit rate, the racial/ethnic and gender makeup of the student body, the number of students (overall and full-time), and institutional characteristics such as whether a college is primarily residential. We estimated this predicted graduation rate measure in a regression model separately for each classification, either using data from a prior year or imputing for missing data when necessary. Schools with graduation rates that are higher than the “average” school with similar stats score better than schools that match or, worse, undershoot the mark. One school, the California Institute of Technology, had a predicted graduation rate of over 100 percent. We adjusted this predicted graduation rate to 100 percent.

We then divided the difference between the actual and predicted graduation rate by the net price of attendance, defined as the average price that first-time, full-time students who receive financial aid pay for college after subtracting need-based financial aid. This cost-adjusted graduation rate measure rewards colleges that do a good job of both graduating students and keeping costs low. One college, Berea College, reported a negative net price and was scaled back to the smallest positive net price reported by any college ($909). The two social mobility formulas (actual vs. predicted percent Pell and cost-adjusted graduation rate performance) were weighted equally.

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