Can Students' Personal Lives Predict Their Chances of Graduating From College?

Factors like internet use and emotional health might be more likely to indicate whether a student will graduate.

Universities are under pressure from all sides to boost graduation rates, and the number of students who graduate within six years has become a strong indicator of a school’s quality. That means admissions offices are looking more closely than ever at SAT scores, high school transcripts, essays, extracurriculars, and other factors in an effort to determine which students will earn diplomas if they enroll. But what if schools are looking at the wrong indicators to predict the likelihood of graduation?

According to the latest report from UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, admissions officers should be taking into account a wider variety of student characteristics if they want to know which students will complete their degrees. The report analyzed two sets of data: the Cooperative Institutional Research Program's Freshman Survey, a survey students take when they start college, and graduation data from the National Student Clearinghouse.

The researchers found that students who apply early-decision, used the internet for research or homework in high school, and visited a campus prior to applying have a higher likelihood of graduating. That makes sense given the correlation between income and the achievement gap. Wealthier students are more likely to have good grades and attend high schools with adequate counseling support to apply early-decision. Their families are also more likely to be able to afford a home computer and internet access, and have the funds to afford a trip to visit prospective schools.

The research also found that students who start college expecting to participate in student organizations and who rate their emotional health highly are also more likely to graduate—students who forge close relationships with their peers and faculty are less likely to drop out. On the other hand, students that attend a school knowing they want to transfer, decide to live at home, attend a commuter school, or plan to work a significant number of hours are less likely to graduate.

The report concludes that if schools take these other, more personal factors into consideration, they could boost their four-year graduation rate prediction by 66 percent. Given that college graduates earn millions more over their lifetimes than their less-educated peers, it's essential that schools figure out how to better support students. If colleges added more campus housing, increased need-based aid so that students don’t have to work so many hours, or provided additional support for students who are the first in their family to go to college, the graduation rate might just skyrocket.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user gurdonark

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