demo­crat is right about col­lege grad­u­a­tion rate

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By ciara O’rourke

Texas’ high school grad­u­a­tion rate has be­come a se­ri­ous talk­ing point in this elec­tion cy­cle, but there are other stu­dents we should fret about too, says Rep. Scott Hochberg, DHous­ton.

“We do have a se­ri­ous prob­lem in this state,” he said to a June 25 cau­cus at the Texas Demo­cratic con­ven­tion. “We have many. But one of them is when our kids grad­u­ate from high school, the pro­por­tion that go to col­lege is small. And more se­ri­ously, even those who go, only about a third of them are get­ting through.”

Two out of three Texas stu­dents who go to col­lege don’t grad­u­ate? We won­dered.

Hochberg for­warded us data he re­ceived from the Texas Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Co­or­di­nat­ing Board, which over­sees the state’s pub­lic

Con­tin­ued from B col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. The board tracked stu­dents who were in sev­enth grade in 1997-98 and there­fore could have grad­u­ated from col­lege by 2009.

Re­sults? Some 32 per­cent of the 168,739 stu­dents who en­tered a Texas col­lege af­ter high school had grad­u­ated within a six-year pe­riod with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree, an as­so­ci­ate de­gree or a cer­tifi­cate (in real es­tate or law en­force­ment, for ex­am­ple).

A cou­ple of caveats: First, the data don’t ac­count for stu­dents who en­rolled in a Texas in­sti­tu­tion and then trans­ferred out of state. Sec­ond, while the en­roll­ment data in­clude the 6 per­cent of stu­dents who at­tended school out of state, they don’t track whether they grad­u­ated.

A one-time shot of grant money did al­low the board to track how many Tex­ans en­rolled in sev­enth grade in 1994-95 had earned col­lege de­grees both in and out of state within a six-year pe­riod by 2006. It found that of 8,028 high school grad­u­ates en­rolled in school out of state, al­most 50 per­cent earned a de­gree or cer­tifi­cate. How­ever, of 134,473 stu­dents en­rolled in Texas col­leges, 36.5 per­cent grad­u­ated. Com­bined, about 37 per­cent of the tracked grad­u­ates earned a de­gree or cer­tifi­cate.

Andy Kes­ling, the board’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, said Hochberg is cor­rect that only about one-third of those stu­dents grad­u­ated from a Texas col­lege.

But, he said, it “all de­pends on how you look at the data. One thing I’m re­ally concerned about is peo­ple go away with the im­pres­sion that only one-third of the stu­dents go­ing to school in Texas are grad­u­at­ing. If you look at the sixyear grad­u­a­tion rate of Texas uni­ver­si­ties, the grad­u­a­tion rate is 57 per­cent.”

That means that of the stu­dents who en­tered a four-year pub­lic uni­ver­sity in Texas in the fall of 2002, 57 per­cent grad­u­ated within six years. That in­cludes stu­dents who trans­ferred to an­other pub­lic or pri­vate school in Texas.

Hochberg quib­bles with that grad­u­a­tion rate be­cause it ex­cludes the many stu­dents who at­tend in­sti­tu­tions such as com­mu­nity col­leges. “It’s not ap­ples to ap­ples,” he said. “It’s only the best ap­ples.”

Of some 300,000 Texas stu­dents who were en- rolled in sev­enth grade in 1997-98, about 63,800 later en­rolled in a four-year school, such as the Uni­ver­sity of Texas, while 90,800 en­rolled in a two-year school, such as Austin Com­mu­nity Col­lege. That is, about 60 per­cent of stu­dents pur­su­ing post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion go the com­mu­nity col­lege route.

Their grad­u­a­tion rate is far lower. Of the stu­dents en­rolled full time at a com­mu­nity col­lege in the fall of 2002, the board found that only 11 per­cent grad­u­ated within three years.

The co­or­di­nat­ing board isn’t alone in track­ing col­lege grad­u­a­tion rates.

Us­ing U.S. Cen­sus Bureau data, the Chron­i­cle of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, a Washington-based jour­nal, re­ported in April that 30.7 per­cent of Texas 25-to 34-year-olds had col­lege de­grees, com­pared with 38 per­cent na­tion­ally.

Then there’s the Na­tional Cen­ter for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Man­age­ment Sys­tems, which found that as of 2008, 49 per­cent of first-time, full-time Texas stu­dents seek­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree grad­u­ated within six years, rank­ing the state 35th na­tion­ally. Look­ing at the per­cent­age of first-time full-time stu­dents seek­ing their as­so­ci­ate de­grees, the cen­ter found Texas fared worse: 18.6 per­cent, 41st in the coun­try. Look­ing at the raw num­bers, we found that 35.2 per­cent of stu­dents seek­ing an as­so­ci­ate or bach­e­lor’s de­gree grad­u­ated.

Where does this leave Hochberg’s state­ment?

As we learned in ear­lier check­ing of can­di­date claims about high school grad­u­a­tion rates, there are sev­eral ways to sort the num­bers. The state’s six-year grad­u­a­tion rate at uni­ver­si­ties, for ex­am­ple, is far higher than the rate Hochberg cites. Yet rolling stu­dents seek­ing as­so­ci­ate de­grees into the equa­tion sup­ports Hochberg’s as­sess­ment. About a third of Texas stu­dents who en­roll grad­u­ate from a Texas col­lege. His state­ment is True.

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