The Chronicle of Higher Education (December 10, 2010) reports that New Paltz ranks in the top 10 percent of public universities nationwide with the best 6-year graduation rates (41 out of 414 doctoral and masters universities). New Paltz ranks in the top 2 percent among public masters institutions (5th out of 254 institutions).
The 6-year rate at New Paltz rose 17 percent (from 54 to 71percent) during 5 years from 2003 (for freshman who entered in 1997) to 2008 (for freshman who entered in 2002) and reflects the second highest increase among public institutions that offer masters degrees.
“Our retention and graduation rates continue to climb and to exceed by substantial margins the national averages for 4-year colleges and universities – both public and private,” said Interim President Donald Christian. “Our graduation and retention rates for students from traditionally under-represented groups also are well above national averages and reflect the important contributions that we make to ensuring access to high-quality educational opportunities for ALL New York citizens.
The current 4-year graduation rate at New Paltz (for freshmen entering in 2006) made another significant jump this year from 48.5 percent to 52.2 percent, following a large increase last year, and the 5-year graduation rate (for freshmen entering in 2005) increased from 63.2 percent last year to 67.5 percent.
“These graduation rates are another key marker of the quality institution that New Paltz has become in recent decades and that we hope to sustain in this economic downturn,” Christian said.
The Chronicle used I.P.E.D.S. (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) data, required by the Federal Government from all colleges and universities using Title IV Student Aid programs, to analyze the change in graduation rates over a six-year period from 2003 to 2008 (the last year complete data is available at this time). The Chronicle methodology analyzed the approximately 1,400 public 4-year and private not-for-profit 4-year institutions and determined that roughly one-third of institutions experienced a decline in graduation rates, one-third stayed the same, and one-third improved.
“Many internal and external factors have contributed to New Paltz’s success in improving graduation rates, but the most powerful contributor is the academic credentials of our entering students, ” L. David Eaton, vice president of enrollment management states.
According to Eaton, “many outside the educational community do not realize that nationwide the typical college student does not graduate within 4-years of starting a program of study. Nationally the average number of years for degree completion is 6- years with some institutions reporting an 8-year graduation rate.”
William Bowen, former president of Princeton University, and his colleagues report in their book “Crossing the Finish Line “(2009): “One of the most relentlessly consistent findings in [our] study is the powerful association between graduation rates and institutional selectivity as measured by a combination of the test scores and high school grades of entering undergraduates. To be sure, more selective universities, by definition, enroll students with stronger entering credentials who are more likely to graduate regardless of where they go to college.”
The Chronicle reported that many colleges that show the most improvement have created social environments that encourage graduation. Some placed freshmen in small groups that reside and take classes together, helping those students form bonds with their peers.
New Paltz has such a system in place with First-Year Interest Groups (FYIs), which provide an opportunity for students to live in a residence hall with classmates who take two courses in common during each semester of their first year. Retention rates for FYIs compare very positively to national and campus averages. For the years 2005-2008, retention rates for FYI members were on average 6.7 percent higher than the general student body across 4-years. For the same 4-year period, average freshman retention within FYI was 90.3 percent compared to 85.8 percent for the student body at large.
The New Paltz Honors Program also contributes to high graduation and retention rates. This program includes small seminar-style courses, community service and thesis requirements and advising for its participants.
Today SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher testified before the New York State Assembly Higher Education Committee about student success. In her presentation titled, “From Access to Success – Closing the College Achievement Gap.” She addressed the national reality of student success, SUNY’s accomplishments in this area, and what SUNY is doing to further that progress, including activities which form a major component of SUNY’s strategic plan, The Power of SUNY.
The Chronicle of Higher Education report can be accessed via their Web site.