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The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy

Editor-in-Chief: Jürges, Hendrik / Ludwig, Sandra

Ed. by Auriol, Emmanuelle / Brunner, Johann / Fleck, Robert / Mastrobuoni, Giovanni / Mendola, Mariapia / Requate, Till / de Vries, Frans / Zulehner, Christine

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Volume 13, Issue 2


Volume 6 (2006)

Volume 4 (2004)

Volume 2 (2002)

Volume 1 (2001)

Are Students Dropping Out or Simply Dragging Out the College Experience? Persistence at the Six-Year Mark

Leslie S. Stratton
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Economics, Virginia Commonwealth University, 301 W. Main St. Snead Hall, Richmond, VA 23284-4000, USA, Research Fellow at IZA (Bonn, Germany)
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/ James N. Wetzel
  • Department of Economics, Virginia Commonwealth University, 301 W. Main St. Snead Hall, Richmond, VA 23284-4000, USA
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Published Online: 2013-10-17 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejeap-2012-0082


Standard analyses of college outcomes look at six-year graduation rates, treating all non-graduates alike as “failures”. However, we find that 36% of non-graduates are still enrolled. Using micro-level data with rich information on demographic and academic background, we employ a multinomial logit model to distinguish among graduates, persisters, and dropouts six years following matriculation. We find that there are significant differences across these populations. Separate evidence indicates that as many as half of those persisting at the six-year mark will graduate within a few years. Thus, six-year graduation rates understate “success,” but future success is not the same for all groups. Holding academic background constant, reported graduation rates are lower for Hispanics because they are taking longer to graduate and lower for first-generation college students because they are dropping out. The most important factor is academic background, suggesting that increased financial aid is unlikely to substantially increase graduation rates.

Keywords: education economics; higher education; persistence


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About the article

Published Online: 2013-10-17

Initial enrollment probabilities are also lower for these population groups, though they have improved considerably.

The NCES requires sample size to be rounded to the nearest ten.

A handful of individuals are excluded, because age and other characteristics of interest are missing.

The NCES measure is reported in the Digest of Education Statistics (2010, Table 341) and reflects the six-year graduation rate for all degree seeking students beginning as full-time fall semester students at a four-year institution in 1996. Part-time students and those beginning in the spring term have lower six-year graduation rates. Further restricting our sample to exclude such students yields a graduation rate of 57.7%.

The marginal effects from the logit specification discussed above are calculated similarly. Simulated marginal effects calculated using the entire sample and changing one variable at a time yield substantially the same results.

More advanced high school math is also associated with more graduation, less non-enrollment, and little difference in the probability of continued enrollment, but only the marginal effect on non-enrollment is statistically significant.

Some institutions offering such a plan include the University of Illinois, UT Dallas, and George Washington University.

Citation Information: The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, Volume 13, Issue 2, Pages 1121–1142, ISSN (Online) 1935-1682, ISSN (Print) 2194-6108, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejeap-2012-0082.

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©2013 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin / Boston.Get Permission

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