N.J., Pa. college graduation rates among top in country

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Rowan University has been increasing the number of professional advisers, creating a faculty mentor system, and is expanding the use of a computer tracking program that allows faculty and advisers to communicate and see an overview of student success. ( DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer )

Public colleges in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have among the highest graduation rates in the country, according to data released this week.

More than 70 percent of students that start at public four-year schools in those two states graduate within six years, according to state-by-state data released this week by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which conducts research based on data it receives from almost every public and private college in the country.

The data track students across schools and states, which the organization says makes it the most complete measure available. Schools generally do not track students who transfer out, meaning those students get grouped together with those who leave college altogether — “noncomplete” ends up meaning both transfers and dropouts. The new data are based on students who first started college in fall 2008.

The national completion rate for public four-year colleges was 62.85 percent for those students, the data showed. New Jersey had a 73.3 percent completion rate, making it the sixth highest of the 46 states for which data was available. Pennsylvania ranked 11, thanks to its 71.25 percent completion rate.

“It’s not a huge surprise to me. … We do quite well. I think that says positive things both about our institutions and our K-12 system, where we spend a particularly large amount of money,” said Paul R. Shelly, spokesman for the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, the group that represents the state’s four-year schools other than Rutgers University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Students who start school in New Jersey and Pennsylvania also tend to stay at the same college or university, the data showed. In New Jersey, 60.77 percent of students who start at a public four-year school graduate from that school; in Pennsylvania, that number is 59.74 percent.

Nationally, just less than half — 49.80 percent — of all students end up graduating from the school where they started.

About 16 percent of students at New Jersey public four-year schools dropped out of college, and one in five Pennsylvania students left in the six year time period.

Colleges trying to push the graduation and retention rates higher are trying various student success initiatives.

Rutgers-Camden is rolling out eight-semester templates, creating a system to flag academic trouble early, and making academic advising visits mandatory. They held a “student success summit” just last week.

Rowan University has been increasing the number of professional advisers, creating a faculty mentor system, and is expanding the use of a computer tracking program that allows faculty and advisers to communicate and see an overview of student success.

“Moving students through to their graduation goals promptly, that can be good all the way around. It certainly addresses the affordability issue — students who have to spend six or seven years in college versus four or five, the costs are significantly larger,” Shelly said. “There’s a virtuous cycle there: When students move through quickly, the expectations build about moving through more promptly.”