U.S. colleges and universities are failing to graduate a greater number of students than in previous decades, although there has been more than a 25 percent increase in the number of students enrolling in colleges after high school graduation for the last three decades. Nevertheless, the 6-year graduation rate has been lingering around 66 percent for the same period (National Center for Education Statistics). This means more students are accessing higher education, however, they are leaving without a degree. Moreover, students are taking a longer time to complete their degree.
Perceiving that economic and social benefits are increasingly based on postsecondary education, the public is now accepting degree completion rate and completion in a timely manner as critical measures of accountability for colleges and universities. Consequently, legislatures and citizens criticize colleges for students' failure to complete a degree or failure to complete it in a timely manner. In response to these public requests, states are developing policies to boost their colleges and universities' 6-year degree completion rates.
Higher education policies such as linking funding to performance and penalizing students who take more credits than required must be based on reliable research. However, there are conflicting findings on factors affecting 6-year degree completion, and research on time-to-degree completion (time-to-degree, hereafter) has only recently become more prevalent. The contradictory findings are a `Unit of Analysis' Problem. Most studies on degree completion and time-to-degree were conducted based on single- institution. Therefore, the results have been conflicting and not generalizable.
The goals of this research were: 1) to advance and test the validity of the Degree Commitment Model (DCM), 2) to provide the higher education community with reliable research findings on factors affecting undergraduates' degree completion and time-to-degree (TTD) based on a nationally representative data set (PETS: 2000), and 3) to introduce a method, the Zero-Inflated Negative Binomial Model (ZINB), that models two different dependent variables simultaneously and addresses the problem of overdispersion in the observed numeric dependent variable.
Following the disciplines of DCM, this research specified four hypotheses concerning degree completion that were examined based on the results of the study:
1) The determinants that contributed to previously formed commitment propensity will further affect the level of later commitment in degree-seeking process, 2) The higher the satisfaction level, the higher the commitment level will be: Variables assumed to have positive relationship to students' satisfaction would increase the probability of degree completion, 3) The higher the quality of alternatives to obtaining a degree, the lower the commitment level, which would reduce the probability of graduation, and 4) Increased investment size would enhance the commitment level and degree completion.
The findings of this study regarding degree completion confirmed what other studies have identified. One of the unique findings of this study concerns students who have the obligation of taking care of dependents: The binary variable of dependent suggests that students who came to have dependents to take care of are more than two times less likely to graduate (234%). Students' background variables, such as race/ethnicity and gender, did not have a relationship to the probability of degree completion.
The findings of this study on academic preparedness emphasize "what" courses students took while they were in high school, rather than "how well" they did in those classes. High school rank and GPA quintile and high school senior test scores were not related to degree completion. The intensity of the high school curriculum, however, revealed its strong relationship to the odds of degree completion.
The variables pertaining to enrollment patterns indicated their relationship with degree completion. Students who started their postsecondary academic career at a selective institution had higher chances of degree completion than their counterparts. One encouraging finding on enrollment patterns was that students transferring from a 2-year institution to a 4-year institution appeared to have a positive relationship to degree completion.
Not surprisingly, many of the predictors concerning enrollment patterns were found to be associated with enrolled TTD. Starting at a selective institution and not in a home state decreased the expected length of enrolled TTD. The total number of credits earned for the first calendar year and the GPA was shown to reduce the enrolled TTD. Students who took a remedial reading course were found to take more time than those who did not in the process of degree completion. Students' background variables and academic preparedness from high school did not show any statistically significant relationship with enrolled TTD.
Based on research findings of the study, policy implications were presented followed by limitations of the study and future directions of research regarding the topic of degree completion and time-to-degree.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. Novemver 2011. Major:Educational Policy and Administration. Advisor: Darwin D. Hendel. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 135 pages, appendices A-F.
Determinants of baccalaureate degree completion and time-to-degree for high school graduates in 1992..
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