NEW STUDY: Filling in the Blanks
How Information about Graduation Rates Can Positively Affect Choice in Higher Education
January 13, 2011 - Over the past two years, the Obama administration and prominent foundations have promoted a "college completion agenda" designed to dramatically increase the percentage of Americans with a college degree. One barrier to making progress on this goal is simple: colleges that admit similar students often have widely different graduation rates with far too many colleges failing to get a majority of their students across the finish line.
Scholars of all stripes agree that an important step to a better outcome is improving the information available to prospective students and their families. Providing consumers with better information about college quality and costs should help students choose high-performing schools and put pressure on colleges that are not making the grade. But will providing such information really affect college decisions?
In their new research study, Filling in the Blanks, AEI's Andrew P. Kelly and Mark Schneider used an experimental survey to test whether providing graduation-rate information affects the way parents choose between two public, four-year colleges in their state. The study found that providing graduation-rate information for two similar colleges increased the probability that parents would choose the institution with the higher graduation rate by 15 percentage points.
Perhaps most importantly, the information had a large and significant effect on parents with less education, lower incomes, and less knowledge of the college application process. More advantaged and better-informed parents, meanwhile, did not significantly change their preferences in response to graduation rates.
In some cases, providing graduation rates led lower-income and less-informed parents to make choices that looked more like those made by their more advantaged peers. These findings suggest that giving parents additional information about college quality could help less-advantaged parents make decisions that are similar to those made by the savviest consumers in the market.
Kelly and Schneider propose that federal rules be altered to require colleges to share their six-year graduation rates with parents and prospective students in all admissions and financial correspondence. They further argue that policymakers should work to provide a broad array of college quality measures to allow students and their families to easily distinguish colleges from one another.
Kelly concludes that "providing such information to enhance consumer choice in higher education is a governmental objective that policymakers on the right and the left should agree on."
Andrew P. Kelly is a research fellow at AEI. Mark Schneider, a former commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, US Department of Education, is a visiting scholar at AEI. Both authors are available for interviews and can be contacted through Jenna Schuette at firstname.lastname@example.org (202.862.5809).
For additional media inquiries, or to book AEI’s in-house ReadyCam TV studio and AEI’s radio booth / ISDN lines, please contact Sara Huneke at email@example.com (202.862.4870).