The Top 100: Interpreting The Data - Higher Education

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The Top 100: Interpreting The Data

by Victor M. H. Borden and Pamela C. Brown

The Top 100: Interpreting The Data

Does a 5 percent annual percentage increase seem like a healthy rate of growth? At this rate, after 10 years a $100 investment yields a $63 profit. What if we are talking about people, and specifically, the number of students of color receiving bachelor’s degrees in a year? In academic year 1994-1995, just over 200,000 students representing ethnic and racial minority groups graduated from U.S. colleges and universities with a four-year degree. In 2004-2005, that number reached nearly 350,000, representing an annual percentage growth rate of 5.1 percent and a 64 percent increase over the entire 10-year period. The growth rate was fastest for Hispanics, where the 6.4 percent clip led to a near doubling of degrees from, 54,000 in 1994-1995 to just over 100,000 in 2004-2005. These growth rates are especially impressive when compared with the rate of growth in bachelor’s degrees conferred to White students, which increased an average of 1.3 percent annually during this same time frame.

The trends are impressive. The number of degrees conferred to minorities continue to grow and the gap in attainment between White students and students of color continues to diminish. But the gap has not disappeared. In this year’s, Top 100 analyses, the first to come under the Diverse: Issues In Higher Education banner, we continue our focus on the institutions that award the most degrees to students of color. This edition focuses on bachelor’s degree recipients, and we will examine the graduate degree recipients in July. The Top 100 analyses continue to feature degree production among the four racial/ethnic minority groups — African-Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics and American Indians — identified within the national data collection system that we employ.

Source of Data & Methodology
The current analysis reports on degrees conferred during the 2004-2005 academic year. As in past years, this is not a “final release” from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The preliminary data are complete and accurate for those institutions included in the analysis, which, in our experience, represents the vast majority of U.S. community colleges, four-year colleges and universities. There is one notable and unfortunate exception. The National Center for Education Statistics granted institutions in the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast region a reprieve from reporting, as our friends and colleagues there were engaged in the clean-up and rebuilding effort after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The data for this study come from the Department of Education. It is collected through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) program completer’s survey conducted by the NCES. The survey requests data on the number of degrees and other formal awards conferred in academic, vocational and continuing professional education programs. Institutions report their data according to the Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) codes developed by NCES. CIP codes provide a common set of categories allowing comparisons across all colleges and universities.

The lists included in this analysis are based on students’ racial or ethnic status. This status is typically determined by a self-reported response from the student during his or her college career. Students are offered a set of categories from which to choose. The number and labels of these categories differ from one institution to another. However, when reporting enrollment or degrees to the federal government, institutions must “map” their categories to the standard federal categories: non-resident alien; Black, non-Hispanic; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian or Pacific Islander; Hispanic; White, non-Hispanic; and race/ethnicity unknown. The “minority” categories — Black, non-Hispanic; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian or Pacific Islander; and Hispanic — include only U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

The single category selection method will continue to be a part of the degree completion data for at least a few more years. While the federal government agencies are in the process of moving to a new method for collecting information on race/ethnicity, the new method has not yet been implemented as part of these postsecondary surveys.

We restrict our analysis to institutions located in the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. We, therefore, exclude institutions from U.S. territories and protectorates, including Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, etc., as well as U.S. military service schools. We also include only those institutions that are eligible for Title IV federal funding by virtue of being accredited by a regional or specialized agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

The institutions appearing in the published lists are ranked according to the total number of degrees awarded to minority students across all disciplines and, separately, in specific disciplines. The lists include a breakdown of 2004-2005 graduates by gender. The final two columns of the lists show two percentages. The first percentage indicates how the number of the minority category degree recipients compares to all degree recipients at that institution within that discipline. For example, in the listing of baccalaureates conferred to African-Americans in business and management, the percent indicates the proportion of all business and management baccalaureate degree recipients at that institution who were African-American. The second of these columns indicates the percentage change in that minority groups’ number of graduates at that institution from the prior year, 2003-2004.

The lists the combine all minority groups and disciplines by degree level each feature the top 100 institutions. The lists for specific minority groups and for specific disciplines contain as many as 50 institutions each. A given list may have slightly fewer or more institutions because of ties in the rankings. For example, if there are four institutions that fall into the 48th ranked slot, then the list includes all of them, bringing the total number of institutions listed to 52. If, however, 10 institutions are tied in the 48th rank, all are excluded and so the list falls short at 47. A specific list may also be short because only a small number of degrees are conferred to that minority group within that discipline and/or degree level.

Trends and Associations
Table 1 and the accompanying graph depict the 10-year trend in bachelor’s degrees conferred to students of all racial/ ethnic categories. As mentioned earlier, the overall annual growth rate for minority students averaged 5.1 percent with a faster 6.4 percent rate among Hispanics. The annual growth rate for the other three minority groups ranged from 4.4 percent for African-Americans to 4.8 percent for Asian Americans. The bar graph illustrates the differences in average annual growth rate among the racial/ethnic groups. 

African-Americans still comprise the largest of the four minority groups with more than 130,000 baccalaureate recipients in 2004-2005. However, in the past three years Hispanics have taken over the second spot from Asian Americans, as illustrated by the crossing lines in the time trend graph. 

With the faster growth rate among minority students, the overall percentage of minority degree recipients climbed from 18 percent in 1994-1995 to nearly 24 percent in 2004-2005. The White majority declined during this 10-year period from just under 79 percent to below 73 percent despite some growth in the number of degrees awarded to majority students.

We introduce in this analysis a set of scatter plots (see pg. 35) that show the relationship between the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2004-2005 (plotted on the vertical or y-axis) to the enrollment levels among each racial/ethnic group four years earlier (plotted on the horizontal or x-axis). As expected, there is a very strong positive relationship, such that schools with larger enrollments tend to produce more graduates. The strengths of these associations are depicted by the R2 value shown in the lower left corner of each of these plots. This value, also called the coefficient of determination, represents the proportion of variation in degrees conferred that is accounted for by enrollment four years earlier. The coefficients range from .88 for African-Americans to .94 for Asian Americans, signifying that between 88 percent and 94 percent of the variation or differences in the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred at the institutions included in this analysis is explained by differences in enrollment four years earlier.

Despite the very close relationship between enrollment and bachelor’s degrees conferred, there are some “outliers,” that is, institutions that awarded either more or fewer degrees than one would expect given their enrollments. But before considering these outliers, it is important to note some technical aspects of this analysis. The enrollment data available for this analysis does not distinguish between students enrolled in bachelor’s degree or associate degree programs. Therefore, it was necessary to exclude from this analysis bachelor’s degree granting institutions that have significant associate degree programs. As such, only institutions that awarded 80 percent or more of the undergraduate degrees at the baccalaureate level were included. This restriction reduced the pool of institutions from over 2,200 to just fewer than 1,700.

Another point worthy of note is that the four-year lag between enrollment and degrees was selected based on a preliminary analysis of the correlation between degrees conferred and enrollment two, three, four, five and six years earlier. The correlation was highest using the four-year lag for three of the four racial/ethnic groups. For Asian Americans, which exhibit the strongest correlation overall, the two-year lagged enrollments had an even stronger relationship. However, the differences in correlations across years were very small.

On each scatter plot, we identify the most extreme positive and negative outlier points with the name of the institution that each point represents. The extremity of any given point is determined by the distance between the point and the prediction along a vertical line that is parallel with the y-axis. Thus, for the plot representing African-American degrees and enrollments, Clark Atlanta University and Howard University are the most extreme positive outliers (more degrees than predicted), and Texas Southern University and Wayne State University are the most extreme negative outliers (fewer degrees than predicted). 
To understand what other factors might influence degree attainment, Table 2 (see pg. 36) shows the average SAT score (or ACT equivalent) of first-year students entering into each of the outlier institutions. The differences are quite stark. Student selectivity appears to be a distinguishing factor between negative and positive outliers. But it doesn’t explain all of the differences, as in illustrated by Florida Atlantic University, which outperforms the prediction for African-American degrees conferred but has an average SAT score. Similarly, the University of Houston underperforms the prediction for Asian American students although it boasts a relatively high SAT average among entering students.

Although it is possible to develop a more sophisticated model to predict degrees conferred that would include other likely correlates such as selectivity, residential capacity or the percent of students attending full-time, this simple two-dimensional analysis and the examination of outliers makes two things clear: 1) to graduate large numbers of minority students, you must enroll large numbers of minority students; and 2) despite the very strong relationship between enrollment and degrees conferred, there are other critical factors. On the one hand, encouraging increased selectivity of college admissions may seem counterproductive to efforts to widen access. On the other hand, enhanced pre-college preparation may be a more cost-effective way to improve rates of degree attainment. As with most complex social problems, there is no simple solution and we must encourage improvements at all ends of the spectrum; from pre-school through graduate school.

— Dr. Victor M.H. Borden is associate vice president and associate professor at Indiana University. Pamela C. Brown is associate director of enrollment services at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.



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