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Inputs Trump Outputs

By Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed

The easiest way for colleges to improve their graduation rates is to serve fewer disadvantaged students, according to two new studies released this week.

The new research found that the characteristics of incoming students largely predict their likelihood of completing college. The papers arrive at a time when many politicians have been endorsing ideas for rewarding institutions that perform well on graduation rates. That concept, however, has been questioned by many at colleges that educate non-wealthy, less-prepared students.

One paper, a policy bulletin the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance released Wednesday, found that the percentage of a college’s first-time students who are Pell Grant recipients heavily influences its graduation rates. Other strong factors are the relative wealth of institutions and the average ACT scores of their incoming students.

“The more a four-year college serves Pell recipients, the lower its six-year graduate rate and the more difficult it is to improve that rate,” found the committee, which advises Congress on federal financial aid.

For example, at public institutions where Pell recipients account for at least half of total enrollment, and which have less than $1,000 in endowment funds per student, the average six-year graduation rate is 28 percent, according to the analysis, which drew its data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems (IPEDS).

The average graduation rate rises to 67 percent, however, at public institutions with $34,000 or more in endowment funds per student and where Pell recipients make up less than 30 percent of enrollment.

Private colleges displayed a similarly inverse relationship between graduation rates and the relative wealth of students and institutions.

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