The predicted graduation rate measure has been substantially changed since last year’s rankings, based on research by Robert Kelchen, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and methodologist for this year’s college guide, and Douglas N. Harris, associate professor at Tulane University. While last year’s formula predicted graduation rates based on the percentage of Pell Grant students and its average SAT score, this year’s formula includes other characteristics that are associated with the academic preparation and resources of its students. In addition to the percentage of Pell recipients and the average SAT score, the 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 type of control (public, private nonprofit, and for-profit), and whether a college is a historically black college or university (HBCU) or 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 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. Two colleges (Berea College and Macon State College) reported negative net prices and were scaled back to the smallest positive net price reported by any college ($1,255). The two social mobility formulas (actual vs. predicted percent Pell and cost-adjusted graduation rate performance) were weighted equally.
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