Friday, May 25, 2007

Faculty Status and Graduation Rates?

By Matt Denhart

In a world of few objective evaluation methods—higher ed—graduation rates are the key measurement for college student success. With alarmingly low average graduation rates, we find ourselves searching for solutions to this ultimate question—how do we get our kids to graduate? According to research here at CCAP, part-time faculty does appear to play a somewhat significant role, but tenure status does not seem to be a significant or strong variable.

Regressions for four and six year graduation rates at research extensive and intensive public and private colleges tell us much. Part-time to full-time and total faculty ratios generally show a significant and somewhat strong and negative relationship to graduation rates. By decreasing this ratio, i.e. hiring more faculty members on a full-time basis and fewer part-time, colleges could increase student success. While this may increase costs, perhaps it’s worth consideration for the students’ sake.

Tenure status is a less significant variable. The ratio of non-tenured faculty (and not on a tenure track) to tenured faculty does not significantly contribute either positively or negatively to graduation rates. This is not to say that tenured professors are not on average more experienced than their non-tenured colleagues or that tenure status plays no role in research output and other roles of faculty. However, strictly from an interest of graduating students, a university would be wise to not place such great emphasis on the extremely costly practice of tenure.

While I have discussed the previous two factors, it should be noted that average ACT scores are consistently a highly significant and positively strong factor. This should be expected as ACT scores are a good indicator of student quality, and the better the student the higher chance for success. This does much to explain why the Harvard’s and Princeton’s of the world are able to graduate over 95 percent of their students while other institutions—with less qualified students, continue to struggle. That said, in the interest of student success, universities would be wise to focus more strongly on full-time faculty and less on their tenure systems. Expect more on this issue in the coming future.

Matt Denhart is an undergraduate student at Ohio University and a research assistant for CCAP.

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