College Graduation Rates v. SAT Scores

We have seen that the graduation rates of our 4-year public colleges correlate well with the SAT scores of their freshmen.  Let’s return to that subject with some more recent data.

The most recent SCHEV cohort graduation data are from the 2012-13 first-time, full time freshmen.  SCHEV also has SAT data for entering freshmen that year.

Here, then, for our 4-year public colleges, are the 4-year graduation rates for that 2013 cohort plotted v. those median SAT scores (math + verbal).


The correlation is solid:  Entering SAT scores, on average, are an excellent predictor of that graduation rate (recalling, always, that the correlation does not prove causation).

Three schools considerably outperform the fitted line: James Madison and Longwood at +11 and VMI at +7.  The three largest underperformers are Old Dominion (-13), George Mason (-11), and VCU (-7).

Turning to the five-year rates:


The outperformers on the five-year rate are JMU (+12 from the fitted line), Longwood (+10), VMI (+7), and Radford (+4).  The underperformers are Old Dominion (-9), Norfolk State (-8), Wm. & Mary and George Mason (-5), and Mary Washington (-4). 

We might think that outstanding performance at the 4-year level would hinder performance at five years; JMU, VMI, and Longwood (and, to a lesser extent, Radford) all belie that notion.

The five-year rates are remarkably higher, even at THE University and W&M, with the increases generally larger at the schools with the lower rates.


Remember: The cohort data are for full time, first-time freshmen.  We might think that these rates would not reflect the larger part-time populations at the urban universities; we might be wrong in that.

BTW: Looking just at graduation rates, we see there is one (private) school that beat even THE University (on the 4-year rate, UVa, 88%; W&L, 93%).


We could argue endlessly about the causes for these correlations and differences.  The better question, I suggest, is what all these schools might do to improve their graduation rates:  On average, 45% of those full time, first-time freshmen entering 4-year public colleges did not graduate in four years; 28% did not make it in six. 

In terms of people:  About 14,450 (“about” because of the roundoff of the rate data) of 32,112 first-time, full time freshmen entering 4-year public universities in the fall of 2012 did not graduate in four years; about 8,990 did not make it in six years.