Graduation rate rises to 81 percent

GW’s graduation rate rose 6 percentage points between 2003 and 2008, bringing the rate above 80 percent.

In 2008 GW’s graduation rate was 81 percent, up from 75 percent in 2003, according to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education that analyzed graduation rates among students who complete their degrees within six years. Between 2004 and 2007 the graduation rate alternated between 79 and 78 percent.

This uptick is a shift from a 2009 study from the American Enterprise Institute that ranked GW’s 78 percent graduation rate the sixth worst out of 81 competitive colleges and universities.

University President Steven Knapp attributed GW’s increased graduation rate to specific efforts implemented by the University within the past decade.

“I think the increase in George Washington graduation rates since 2003 reflects a number of factors, all of them very much the result of conscious efforts to improve the experience of our students and help ensure their success,” Knapp said in an e-mail.

Knapp said two important factors in the increased graduation rate have been increased financial aid availability and GW’s fixed-tuition policy. Financial assistance helps increase graduation rates, as some students who drop out of school before graduation do so because they can no longer afford tuition.

“Throughout this period, we have steadily increased the amount of financial aid we provide, making it easier for our students to continue even as economic conditions worsened,” Knapp said. “I have to assume that our ‘no surprises’ fixed tuition policy has been very helpful in protecting students and their families from increases in cost they might not have been prepared for.”

The University’s increased selectivity in the admissions process also contributed to the higher graduation rate, Knapp said. Students are coming to GW better qualified, and therefore are able to do better in the curriculum and earn a degree in four years.

Knapp also suggested that increased student satisfaction with the University and the GW experience could also factor into the rate increase.

He pointed to data collected by GW’s Office of Institutional Research, which measured a 7 percent increase in overall satisfaction with GW and a 4 percent increase in perceived education quality from 2003 to 2008. The Office of Institutional Research collected the data from graduating seniors in each class during that period.

Andrea Fuller, a research assistant at the Chronicle, said graduation rate rankings are interesting measurements, particularly in light of President Barack Obama’s 10-year plan for improving higher education in the United States.

“This is an important issue, something that we are talking a lot about with Obama’s 2020 goal,” Fuller said. “Graduation rates at universities are key to that goal.”

During the same period, Boston University and New York University – two of GW’s market-basket schools – also saw graduation rate increases, with NYU also rising 6 percentage points and BU rising 5 percentage points. In the District, American University rose 4 percentage points and Georgetown University saw no change from its 93 percent graduation rate.

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