Why Have College Completion Rates Increased?

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Annenberg Institute at Brown University


College completion rates declined from the 1970s to the 1990s. We document that this trend has reversed--since the 1990s, college completion rates have increased. The authors investigate the reasons for the increase in college graduation rates. Collectively, student characteristics, institutional resources, and institution attended do not explain much of the change. However, they show that grade inflation can explain much of the change in graduation rates. They also show that GPA is a strong predictor of graduation rates and that GPAs have been rising since the 1990s. They find that increases in college GPAs cannot be explained by student demographics, ability, and school factors. Further, they show that at a public liberal arts college, grades have increased over time conditional on final exam performance.



college completion rates, educational attainment, liberal art colleges