Image of a graph showing declines

Our Graduation Rates Declined – Now What?

You’ve secured a great leadership position at your institution. You took the job believing that you can really make a difference at the college or university and in student success. Even though IPEDS graduations rates aren’t due until February – you ask your “data people” (institutional research, institutional effectiveness, etc.) for an early estimate of graduation rates.

You get the results back – and THE graduation rate has declined (gulp!). This is the completion rate that is publicly available, highly utilized and commonly referenced. You ask “the data people” for any insights for the decline. They provide some rationale. But you want to dig deeper. You know campus leadership will want to know more, not to mention the Board and the Accreditor that is scheduled for an upcoming visit.

Bar graph showing decrease trend - maybe it's a decrease in graduation rates.

What Went Wrong?

So, you start asking your “go-to” campus knowledge experts for their observations and thoughts on why graduation rates declined. All have good thoughts, but no solid answer that will likely satisfy the barrage of questions that you are expecting from a variety of stakeholders.

Then, you go home that night and think – “I’m a smart person – there has to be a logical explanation. Maybe I’m over thinking it. After all – the campus has worked SO very hard this year to increase student success. Increasing graduation rates and student success is part of our strategic plan. We’ve infused thousands of dollars into multiple student success efforts that departments and ‘best practices’ say will work. After all of all of this hard work from an entire campus and directed funding, how can we have declining graduation rates? How? It just isn’t possible.”

Graduation Rates +

The answer is complex but manageable. First, the traditional graduation rate metric doesn’t take into account the unique student and institutional characteristics at your institution. Further, the single completion rate metric likely does not reflect that you have multiple student groups on campus – you’ve got transfer students, part-time students, and Pell students. So, one single number—THE Graduation Rate—doesn’t tell you (or anyone else!) which groups of students you and your campus were successful with and which you are not reaching.

Woman working on laptop sitting next to images of graphs - perhaps they show graduation rates.

Don’t let all of your institution’s efforts go unrecognized. Contact IEHE to learn more about your institution’s RealityCheck Report. We’ll show you how to highlight where you have exceeded expectations and identify where to focus future strategic efforts. Our groundbreaking RealityCheck Rate analyzes reported completion rates against RealityCheck (expected) completion rates. RealityCheck Rates are are based on the institution’s unique characteristics. Your RealityCheck Report is an unbiased review of your students’ success. Your results can be used to concentrate faculty and staff efforts on student groups where there are gains to be made.