May 22, 2015

Graduation rates vs. SAT scores

UC Davis

If one picture is truly worth a thousand words, then the “tableau” illustration generated by John Keltz, of the Atlanta Public Schools, documenting the relationship between standardized test scores and graduation rates viewed together with how well selective colleges serve low-income students is a breathtaking study in how being poor limits opportunities.

Using the most recent data available through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System  (IPEDS), Keltz devised a series of graphs designed to plot graduation rates versus average SAT scores.  This is valuable enough, especially as the graphs can be customized by state.

“As expected, schools with high test scores have high graduation rates,” explains Keltz, on his blog.  “Also, a surprising number of US schools have six-year graduation rates below 50%.”

And the latter fact can be easily seen by looking at the huge number of colleges and universities located below the 50 percent graduation rate line.  Note that these are six-year graduation rates.
But Keltz adds an extra dimension to the graphs by color-coding colleges by the percentage of students enrolled who received Pell Grants.

And by bringing in the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, Keltz effectively illustrates that schools with high test scores and graduation rates are much less likely to enroll low-income students.

But there are some obvious outliers on his graph.  Three universities with graduation rates above 80% admit significant percentages of low-income students:  UC San Diego, UC Davis, and UC Irvine.  Other schools in the University of California system also have high Pell Grant rates relative to their peers.

An even closer review of the data shows that schools in the California State system also “over-perform” relative to other colleges with similar SAT scores and graduation rates.

If the mass of blue and brown squares and circles clutters your thinking about how this works, use the second chart and filter by state.  

For example, the District of Columbia provides a straight-line relationship between graduation rates and scores with Georgetown University at the top and Gallaudet University at the bottom.  The relationship extends very clearly to the percent enrollment of Pell Grant recipients.  This time, Gallaudet is on top and Georgetown is on the bottom.

Maryland and Virginia results don’t fall quite as neatly into a straight line, but the pattern is still the same.  Schools with high scores and graduation rates don’t serve many students with Pell Grants.   

In Virginia, Washington and Lee has the highest scores, the second highest graduation rate but the absolute lowest percentage of Pell Grants.  On the other side of the Potomac, the graph for Maryland shows Johns Hopkins University with the highest scores and graduation rate and the lowest percentage of Pell Grant recipients (because the US Naval Academy  is totally tuition-free, there  are no Pell Grant recipients and no way to illustrate how many low-income students are served).

Adding California as an yet another filter gives a quick comparison as to how well Maryland, DC and Virginia do versus the State of California, which provides a wide range of scores and graduation rates but clearly beats out other states for service to low-income students.

For a quick comparison of schools within specific states or across multiple states, make free use of the filters together with the “school fact sheets” provided by Keltz on his tableaus.  You may find the results not only “interesting” but valuable to your college search as well.

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