Graduation Rate Dashboard Comparative Tools

The WSCUC Graduation Rate Dashboard measures and the comparative data tools below are resources for member institutions and peer evaluators to better understand and improve undergraduate retention and graduation rates.

Frequently Asked Questions - Graduation Rate Dashboard

 

Designed by Dr. John Etchemendy, former Stanford University Provost and a member of the WSCUC Commission, and introduced to the region in 2013, the Graduation Rate Dashboard (GRD) uses six data points from the institution to automatically calculate two completion measures, the Unit Redemption Rate and the Absolute Graduation Rate (AGR).

The Unit Redemption Rate (URR) is the proportion of units granted by an institution that are eventually ‘redeemed’ for a degree from that institution. The URR is a completion measure that can be applied to institutions serving any population of students (full-time or part-time; first-time, transfer or swirling), as well as institutions offering different degree programs or mixes of degree programs.

The Absolute Graduation Rate is the proportion of students entering an institution who eventually graduate from that institution. Unlike IPEDS which only tracks cohort based, first-time, full-time students, the Absolute Graduation Rate includes all students at the institution. Like the URR it includes all students regardless of their enrollment pattern- first-time or transfer, full-time or part-time students but also accounts for students who have a gap in their enrollment before completion.

Both the URR and AGR measures are comparable across all institutions.

 

Completion of college degrees and postsecondary certificates that represent valuable education outcomes are a focus of intense national debate and a priority  for WSCUC.  Understanding how to increase the nation’s successful educational attainment motivated WSCUC to increase our attention to measures of student success including student retention, progress towards a degree, and graduation rates, complemented by our efforts to illuminate student learning and other outcomes.

  • Traditionally, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) has been used as the primary source of data on graduation rates for institutions. However, the IPEDS Graduation Rates are restricted to first-time, full-time cohorts that fail to account for the success of a growing number of students in the WSCUC region. The IPEDS methodology for calculating graduation rates fails to account for the success of an increasing number of students so this dashboard was developed as a more inclusive method to identify the enrollment, retention and graduation patterns of today's students. The intention is to provide evaluator teams and the Commission with fair, reliable and more comprehensive data to assess institutional effectiveness with student success. IPEDS graduation rates are based on first-time, full-time students and do not capture the significant number of WSCUC institutions have students that transfer in with some or a great deal of prior higher education experience.

    The GRD by contrast reflects the success of all students including transfer students. This makes the dashboard a more reliable indicator for institutions with significant transfer populations.

    • IPEDS methodology uses a prescribed time period to frame the results, typically six years for baccalaureate degree programs. Yet a significant number of institutions in the WSCUC region serve "non-traditional" or "post-traditional" students, e.g. working adults or students with families who need to attend part-time, or engage in "swirling" enrollment patterns.

    The intention is to provide evaluator teams and the Commission with fair and reliable data to assess institutional effectiveness with student success.

    WSCUC collects six data elements from all accredited, candidate, and eligible institutions in the annual report. Two completion measures are calculated from those data: the unit redemption rate and the absolute graduation rate.

    The unit redemption rate (URR) is the proportion of units granted by an institution that are eventually “redeemed” for a degree from that institution. The absolute graduation rate (AGR) is the proportion of students entering an institution who graduate from that institution, regardless of how long it takes them. The unit redemption rate is an alternative way to measure completion, somewhat different from the standard graduation rate, as it counts units rather than students. Significantly, the URR counts units that all students, full time and part time, first time and transfer, take and redeem. Ideally, every unit granted by an institution ultimately results in a degree, but no institution actually achieves this ideal given that students who drop out never “redeem” the units they take while enrolled. Consequently, the URR is typically below 100 percent.

    By adding one additional data point (the average number of units taken by students who leave the institution), the URR is converted into a graduation measure, the absolute graduation rate, which estimates the proportion of students entering a college or university (whether first time or transfer) who eventually graduate.

    Both the unit redemption rate and the absolute graduation rate are influenced by significant or sustained enrollment fluctuations. Specifically, a decline in enrollment will increase the URR and the AGR, and an increase in enrollment causes a drop in both measures. Due to such fluctuations, it is possible to have outcomes greater than 100%. For this reason, it is important to take into consideration enrollment patterns when using these measures.

     

    Institutions, the Commission, peer evaluators and WSCUC staff currently review IPEDS cohort default rates, the GRD measures, and publicly posted information on student achievement (CFR 1.2) and any other measures provided by the institution as part ofaccreditation, reaffirmation and mid-cycle reviews. The Commission will continue to engage the region in research on the applicability, value and possible enhancements of the GRD methodology. In support of this research, the Graduation Rate Dashboard measures and the institutions’ own analysis will be examined. 

    It is not the intention of the Commission that any accreditation decisions will be made based soley on the GRD measures. The Commission is committed to the use of multiple measures of retention and graduation to gauge institutional effectiveness and student success. 

    For insights about data interpretations, see the document An Explanation of the Unit Redemption Rate and Absolute Graduation Rate, particularly Appendix B regarding how data might vary from year to year given fluctuations in enrollment and/or across institutions in light of differing missions and values.

     

    The Commission references multiple measures of student success and strongly encourages institutions to do the same.

    Student success includes not only strong retention and degree completion rates, but also high-quality learning. It means that students are prepared for success in their personal, civic, and professional lives, and that they embody the values and behaviors that make their institution distinctive. Institutions’ definitions of success will differ, given their unique missions, traditions, programs, and the characteristics of the students served.

    Annual reporting elements include the six data points that allow the calculation of the two completion measures in the Graduation Rate Dashboard (GRD). Additionally, 150% graduation rates for First-time Full time freshman by race, ethnicity and gender are collected for institutions that do not already report to IPEDS. Three-year cohort default rates are also collected annually.

    Retention and graduation data for both undergraduate and graduate students, as applicable, must be readily and easily accessible, and prominently and centrally displayed on the institution’s web page (institution must provide URL as part of the annual report). Quantitative data typically represents “measures of retention and graduation.”

    Other measures of student success should also be referenced by the institution as part of their ongoing improvement efforts and included in the institutional report. See Component 5: Student Success: Student Learning, Retention, and Graduation.

     

    Unlike the traditional IPEDS graduation rates, the Graduation Rate Dashboard methodology accounts for all undergraduate students regardless of how they matriculate (first-time or transfer) or enroll (part-time, full-time, swirling), or how long they take to graduate. While the IPEDS Outcome Measures Survey collects information on first time and transfer students, as well as full-time and part-time, the collection is cohort based and reports on an eight-year-old cohort. The GRD is unit focused and is updated annually to reflect the institution’s most recent enrollment and graduating students. It is not cohort based.

     

    The GRD is focused on undergraduate serving eligible, candidate, and accredited institutions at this time. 

    There are no plans at this time to include graduate units or graduate students in the dashboard. 

    As part of our research, we encourage interested institutions to experiment with the GRD methodology including an exploration of its applicability in graduate education. We would appreciate feedback on institutions' experience with those applications.

     

    Each year, as part of annual reporting, all eligible, candidate and accredited WSCUC institutions are required to provide the six data points used in the GRD measure calculations. Other data elements including graduation rate data are collected from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES); student loan cohort default rates from the US Department of Education Federal Student Aid office are also included in the comparative tool.

    For a more detailed explanation of the reported data elements please refer to:

    Data Definitions (.docx) 

    Calculation Template (.xlsx)

     

    WSCUC encourages institutions to use multiple measures to understand and improve student completion rates. However all institutions are required to annually provide the GRD data. Also, since 2014 institutions have been required to provide a URL to retention and graduation data publicly posted and available on the institution's website. This link is available on the Statement of Accreditation page for each institution listed in the Directory of Institutions.

    The Graduation Rate Dashboard relies on numbers of units, enrolled students, and graduating students in any given year and is not cohort based. Consequently, if enrollment is increasing, both the unit redemption rate and absolute graduation rate may be depressed. In that case increased numbers of students are generating units but have not had time to compete their programs. By contrast, if enrollment is decreasing, both rates will increase. Under these circumstances, it is advisable to consider several years’ data and multiple sources until enrollment reaches a steady state.

    The Graduation Rate Dashboard relies on numbers of units, enrolled students, and graduating students in any given year and is not cohort based. Consequently, if enrollment declines, rates can exceed 100%.