Graduation Rate Overview

September 28, 2005

A guide for looking at retention and graduation rate methods at NC State University.

Task Force Report 

Popular methodologies for reporting graduation descriptive statistics:

  • Elapsed Time – define a starting time point, typically fall semester cohort of first-time-in-college (FTIC) full-time freshmen, and look at a fixed time point later to see who is graduated. The federal standard is 150% of “normal” degree completion time.
  • Time-to-Degree – calculate length of college career based on starting and ending point for each student, not compensating for stop-outs, and average all these times for a group of interest. This would be based on a population of graduated students and is calculated after the fact. Note that the true number for a cohort changes over time as stragglers complete their degrees.
  • Seat Time – define a starting time point (FTIC freshmen) and calculate how long they have been in progress based on semesters attended, that is remove stop-out time. This definition is rarely used because: (1) it is tough to define how part-time semesters count, and (2) it changes the discussion from time-to-degree to the questions of what to do about stop-outs and drop-outs. The results of previous studies at NC State show that those who remain full-time students and do not stop out go on to graduate at a very high rate (oddly enough).
  • Forward Looking Model – follow entering students and calculate graduation rate by counting those with a degree at a later point in time (for dual degrees, the first one counts). IPEDS and NCAA use this methodology, define the start point as new freshmen and the end point is 150% of standard time for degree. This type of report would include information on those who graduate in a discipline different than starting discipline.
  • Backward Looking Model – examine all students who graduated at a point in time and look back to see where, how, and when they came into the system. The main weakness of backward looking is it does not have consistent experiences for students (the strength of the forward-looking model). OIRP calls this the flow model, it is used to analyze administrative and academic policies that affect student behavior.


Definitions of cohorts and time points

See Graduation Rates Form PDF Document for 2004 forms and definitions.

  • The standard cohort is fall semester, first-time-in-college (FTIC) full-time freshmen. This definition is used by NCAA / GRS and by Student-Right-to-Know legislation. For several years before 2005 the NCAA and IPEDS definitions were merged so that only one report was made for both destinations.
  • The IPEDS cohort definition includes resident aliens (green card, etc) and excludes non-resident aliens. There is a list of visa codes that we use to identify resident non-citizens to OP, and they report the GRS cohort and subsequent data for us. Here is the UNC-OP definition for Resident Alien – Persons who are not citizens or nationals of the United States but who have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States and hold a “green card” – Form I-151. and who have been admitted as legal immigrants for the purpose of obtaining permanent resident alien status (and who hold either an alien registration card (Form I-551 or I-151), a Temporary Resident Card (Form I-688), or an Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94) with a notation that conveys legal immigrant status such as Section 207 Refugee, Section 208 Asylee, Conditional Entrant Parolee or Cuban-Haitian) are to be reported in the appropriate racial/ethnic categories along with United States citizens. Non-resident non-citizens are reported as international ethnic status, excluding them from GRS cohort.
  • IPEDS defines full-time and part-time using the institution’s policies, we report a count in each status. For NC State the undergraduates are full-time at 12 credits per semester.
  • The UNC-OP Board of Governors (BOG) definition includes the part-time freshmen and puts a time limit on how recently the student must have graduated from high school (within the last year before freshman status). The UNC system information is developed from SDF submitted to OP as reporting mandates, OP then submits the UNC system information to IPEDS.
  • Our current internal report shows 6 year graduation of 1998 cohort (n=3614) at 67%.
  • UNC-OP reporting shows a 6-year graduation rate of the 1998 cohort (n=3617) at 66.9% with another 2.2% of the cohort graduating from another UNC institution.
  • The GRS definition gives the institution the option of fall cohort only, or of using entire year cohort (fall + spring). OP uses only the fall cohort, as do all large universities. The IPEDS definition allows FTIC freshmen that start early in a summer session before their freshman year to be counted as new freshmen in the fall entering cohort.
  • The end time point is based on elapsed academic years, which would include spring and summer graduations of the 4 th and 6 th year.
  • The GRS definition has a second group in the not-graduated category that can be shown to have (1) transferred to another institution, or (2) moved to non-academic full-time service such as military, foreign aid, or religious duty, or (3) deceased. The items in (2) and (3) adjust the original cohort. The graduation rate is reported based on the adjusted cohort, and the transfer outs are identified and the reader is allowed to logically adjust attitudes or decisions.
  • The transfer out rate is problematic to calculate. OP tracks and calculates transfers within the UNC system and to the NC Community College system. There is also the National Student Loan Clearinghouse Enrollment Search service that will, for a fee, return information on students enrolled at other institutions. We send them a list of students and they return information on matches with student name, birth date, and IDs in their database, which covers 90+ % if all institutions. Both data sources have a basic weakness in that the returned transfer information is based on any enrollment mode (full-time, part-time, degree-seeking, or non-degree) not just true transfers which would be degree-seeking students enrolled full-time or part-time.
  • Our current GRS statistics show an original bachelor’s cohort for 1992 of 3048, adjusted by 3 deaths to 3045. Graduation rate in 6 years is 62.8% with 6.5% transferring to another UNC institution and 4.9% transferring to a 2-year institution (NC Community College).