Something’s Wrong: Breaking Down the Graduation Rate


From a shared link going around Facebook, I’ve come across some interesting and worrying data from the Office of Institutional Research—data on the graduation and retention rates here at Wesleyan. On the website, it gives data for the “six-year graduation rates of the fall 2007, first-time, full-time, degree-seeking freshmen cohort.” This refers to the group of freshmen entering Wesleyan in fall 2007, making them what we would call the “Class of 2011.”

Here’s some of the data: Overall, with this cohort, there is a 92% graduation rate (including everyone), with 92% for both men and women when sliced in that fashion. Here is data broken down by race straight from the website:

American Indian or Alaskan Native students: n/a
Asian students: 91%
Black or African American students: 75%
Hispanic students: 95%
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students: n/a
Non-resident Alien (International) students: 96%
White students: 92%
Students of two or more races: 95%
Students of unknown race/ethnicity: 89%

I hope you can see the one grad rate that is substantially lower than the rest—black or African American students graduate at a rate of 75% from Wesleyan, compared to an overall average of 92% for this cohort.

One thing to also note is that the data on this website looks at the graduation rates for this class within six years of arriving at Wes—so there are people included in this data that did not graduate in 2011 but did graduate either in 2012 or 2013, as this covers a six year period, but still is limited to the new cohort that came into Wes in the fall of 2007. What this means is that people who arrived new to Wes in the fall of 2007 and graduated within six years are included within this data.

With that, I dug a bit more, and was directed to data on the National Center for Education Statistics to try and slice this data a bit more finely.

The data I focused on was the most recent data available, which was for the cohort of freshmen students entering Wesleyan in the year 2006, making this what we would commonly refer to as the “Class of 2010.” Here, there was data on graduation rates for students finishing within four years, five years, as well as six years to attain a Bachelor’s degree. (Thus this data was released in 2012, understandably.) This data may be a year older than the basic data we can find on the Office of Institutional Research website, but it allows us to break down the data much more.

Below are two shots of the data which I will then explain to you—with some important parts highlighted:


The numbers here in this chart, although a bit more general than the chart that will follow, are both interesting and worth noting. The first blue column, under “Revised cohort,” tells you the number of students in this 2006 cohort (Class of 2011) broken down by ethnicity. I don’t know about you, but for me, the actual numbers really puts the percentages we use to showcase the “diversity” of Wesleyan into perspective.

There are 450 white students in this cohort, compared to 70 Hispanic/Latin@ students, 49 Asians, 34 black or African Americans, 39 students of two or more races, and there are a grand total of 0 American Indian/Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students. You can see for yourself how that can be broken down by gender.

The second blue box highlighted column gives you the number of students from each of these groups that graduated within 150% of the normal time, which makes it the number of students that graduate within six years (“normal” time to graduate would be four years). The final red column basically just gives you the percentages/graduation rate of this cohort within the six-year period.

So the graduation rate of this 2006 cohort is an overall percentage of 91%, and you can see for yourself how it is broken down by gender, then race. Just to sample and compare some of these numbers for you, comparing genders by race:

  • Hispanic/Latino men graduated at a rate of 97%, compared to 89% for Hispanic/Latina women.
  • Asian men graduated at a rate of 83%, compared to 96% for Asian women.
  • Black or African American men graduated at a rate of 77%, compared to 81% for black or African American women.
  • White men graduated at a rate of 92%, compared to 90% for white women.
  • Men of two or more races graduated at a rate of 87%, compared to 83% of women.

If we just look at men, with a total graduation rate of 91%, Hispanic/Latino men have the highest rate, at 97%, while black or African American men have the lowest rate, at 77%. With women there is a overall graduation rate of 90%, and Asian women hold the highest rate, with 96%, and black and African American women have the lowest rate, at 81%.

The data that follows essentially is the same information, but it also tells you the number of students in these groups that completed their degrees within four (or fewer) years, within five years, or within six years. This allows us to look at the “normal” four-year graduation rate.


You can see for yourself, in the yellow boxed columns, the number of students that graduated within four years (second yellow box from the left), as well as the percentage of students graduating in four years (third yellow box). The green boxed columns are essentially the same data that we saw earlier, but highlighted so you can compare the four-year rate vs. the six-year rate.

When we look at the graduation rate for four years, the numbers change. The total rate of students graduating within the “normal” four years drops from 91% to 87%, as does all of the subsequent groups divided by race. (FYI, “Nonresident alien” refers to international students.)

Here I’ve compared the data from the four-year rate and the six-year rate:

  • 93% of Hispanic/Latin@ students graduate in six years, compared to 90% in four years.
  • 90% of Asian students graduate in six years, compared to 86% in four years.
  • 79% of black or or African American students graduate in six years, compared to 76% in four years.
  • 92% of white students graduate in six years, compared to 89% in four years.
  • 85% of students of two or more races graduate within six years, compared to 74% in four years.

Thinking about just the four year graduation rate, students of two or more races graduate at the lowest rate, 74%, but that number jumps to 85% in the six year window. Within that six year window, black and African American students graduate at the lowest rate, at 79%. We can slice and compare these numbers in many more ways—and we can even delve into data from earlier cohorts, but even just from this cohort’s data one thing is clear: there are students in our community that are graduating at a much lower rate than others.

This data begs me to ask a few questions. What are we doing wrong here at Wesleyan? Why are we failing all these students? How dare we call ourselves “Diversity University” with these numbers? I personally don’t have all the answers to these—but I’m sure many of you in the community will have some ideas. Please chime in in the comments with your thoughts.

Clearly, many students are not getting the support they deserve here at Wesleyan. As I mentioned earlier, what’s also shocking to me about this data is not only these graduation rates, but the actual numbers of students from different backgrounds that make up our campus. I guess I knew that all along with the percentages Wesleyan offers to us, but the actual numbers puts it into a very different perspective.

For those of us that were at the Diversity University forum last year, we’ve definitely heard some of the issues Wesleyan students experience that they shouldn’t have to—and we cannot let that conversation die. We have to come together as a campus, as a community, consistently and continuously, and not just wait for another high-profile event to buzz us into action. We’re better than that.

. . .

Here are some links if you want to look at the data yourself:

(Visited 17 times, 1 visits today)

14 thoughts on “Something’s Wrong: Breaking Down the Graduation Rate

  1. morganhil

    One area that I think needs a big bright light to be shone on it is the quality of the freshman academic advising. I understand that first year students now get assigned a faculty advisor at the start of registration period. Has Wesleyan done any end user surveys to determine how effective that process is? I think the university does a fantastic job of admitting students, but let’s face it, Wesleyan is a pretty unique place and first year students have a huge degree of freedom in enrolling in any damn class they like. From the course descriptions, it is pretty hard to determine sometimes exactly what that course is going to be about and it’s impossible to assess the level of difficulty. Wesleyan encourages a smorgasbord, all-you-can-eat approach to course selection, which is cool, but having a more coherent process of directing/guiding and yes, limiting in certain cases what courses you can take in first year first semester might help a lot. Once you get behind at the start, it is a game of catch-up that obviously impacts a significant percentage of our student body. Some are better at navigating this than others, but putting some more firewalls and support structures in there might make a difference. What do others think about this?

  2. high school

    I would also be interested to see graduation rates based on socioeconomic status, geographic region, and/or type of high school attended (private/prep, charter, high-funded public, low-funded public, etc.). Especially that last one, since it is something that has often crossed my mind during my time at Wes.

  3. sample size

    The percentage of African American graduates looks bad. But recognize what the numbers say: 79% is 27 out of 34. If just four more African American students graduated, the graduation rate goes all the way up to 91%.

    1. errors

      Exactly. This is absolutely interesting and important to look at, but you should be rigorous about it! Is the low African American rate of graduation statistically significant? Well the standard error of 92% for a population size of 34 is 4.7%, so just randomly sampling 34 students (or e.g. white students) from the Wes population will pretty regularly give you a 79% graduation rate (within 3 std deviations of the population average). That means you have only marginally shown the AA population is any different from the population on average. Now, if you stack up several years of data you may very well see poor graduation rates, but you have to do that to make any claim at all. This goes for ALL of the statistics discussed here. These claims are totally meaningless without error bars. That said, I applaud your effort and the thought that went into this.

  4. Guest

    Wesleyan actually does compare at least somewhat favorably with the US as a whole when it comes to racial diversity (using the 2007 cohort):

    White: Wes 62.5% (450/720) vs. US 63.0% (US Census 2012 estimate)

    Wes has lower % than US for Blacks and Hispanics, higher % for Asians. However, there is a huge amount of two+ races/race unknown/nonresident alien listed in that cohort. Practically 20% isn’t classified, so it’s difficult to make the assertion that Wes is less diverse than the US based on that chart alone.

    Socioeconomics are another thing entirely.

  5. reasonable

    Yes, there are general trends that Wesleyan falls within. Still, as an institution that prides itself on both diversity and general forward-thinking, you’d think we would, with this data in mind, provide even more support to combat this phenomenon.
    Even more interesting is alt’s observation of the actual numerical ethnic breakdown. 450 white students compared to 70 of the next largest group does make me reconsider the description of Wes as a diverse place.

    thanks, alt!

    1. alum

      Wesleyan actually does compare at least somewhat favorably with the US as a whole when it comes to racial diversity (using the 2007 cohort):

      White: Wes 62.5% (450/720) vs. US 63.0% (US Census 2012 estimate)

      Wes has lower % than US for Blacks and Hispanics, higher % for Asians. However, there is a huge amount of two+ races/race unknown/nonresident alien listed in that cohort. Practically 20% isn’t classified, so it’s difficult to make the assertion that Wes is less diverse than the US based on that chart alone.

      Socioeconomics are another thing entirely…

  6. blueson

    I think it’s pretty easy to see that the most likely cause of AA’s having the lowest graduation rate is due to most likely a lack of support from factors that are sometimes outside of Wesleyan’s support. Familial support is very important and quite a few AA’s I have talked to say that the community they are raised in tend to lack any sense of empowerment when it comes to college and that a lot of people just have to gain self empowerment which is tough. I wouldn’t say that Wesleyan is doing something wrong as this issue is bigger than just the school as it deals more with a grander societal issue (as it’s also very evident in other universities and public high schools). I believe that the best thing Wes can do is just continue to accept the students they do accept and make sure they really work on giving academic, creating a safe and encouraging environment, and giving (sometimes financial) support to those that do need it. This article is a bit nitpicking, I agree. I would have liked to see more than just pure number crunching and methodology and have more discussion and what some university’s stance on this is.

  7. thx

    Thank you for writing this. It’s easy to be misled by data, and I appreciate how you illuminated some trends I was not previously aware of.

Comments are closed.