New Jersey has a long history of spending heavily on education.
The state for years has spent money on urban school districts and federally mandated programs to help youngsters in need. Now, says Assemblyman Joe Cryan, the time has come for public colleges and universities that accept state funding to be more accountable for its graduation rates.
"What do Rutgers University, Kean University, Montclair State University, New Jersey City University, Stockton College, Rowan University and William Paterson all have in common?" Cryan (D-Union) asked during a Dec. 19 Assembly session in which he discussed a new state panel formed to study the affordability of higher education. "They all graduate less than 50 percent of their students within four years."
That statistic seemed a bit startling to the Truth-O-Meter, but we found that Cryan is correct.
Cryan’s statistic is based on data reported by the schools themselves, as required, to the state. That data then goes to the U.S. Department of Education, where it can be accessed on the website for the Institute of Education Sciences. The institute’s website shows data for students starting in fall 2004 and fall 2006. Cryan’s claim is based on 2004 data.
Here’s a breakdown of the graduation rates for each of the schools Cryan mentioned, based on a first-year, full-time equivalent student graduating with a bachelor’s degree in four years. It’s worth noting, though, that the graduation rates increase if students take six years to complete their degree:
STARTING FALL 2004
STARTING FALL 2004
|Rutgers University||48 percent||77 percent|
|Kean University||17 percent||47 percent|
|Montclair State University||31 percent||62 percent|
|New Jersey City University||8 percent||37 percent|
|Richard Stockton College||40 percent||64 percent|
|Rowan University||44 percent||70 percent|
|William Paterson University||17 percent||49 percent|
Sources: Asm. Joe Cryan’s office; U.S. Department of Education website, Institute of Education Sciences College Navigator, Retention and Graduation Rates
Cryan noted that he didn’t include some schools, such as the New Jersey Institute of Technology, because its curriculum requires five years to earn a bachelor’s degree.
We reached out to each of the schools cited by Cryan. Not all responded but some that did said that there’s more to graduation rates than numbers.
"There’s a big difference between a kid going to Harvard and a kid going to New Jersey City University, a big difference between going to William Paterson and to Rutgers," said Joe Cardona, vice president of university relations for Rowan University in Glassboro. "Their preparedness profile, their economic profile -- all of those really tie in to your ability to excel and to be able to achieve whatever the degree program is."
Comparing schools with different missions, populations and demographics is akin to comparing apples and oranges, Cardona added.
Taking six years to complete a bachelor’s degree has become a more accepted timeframe, according to Cardona and Steve Manas, a spokesman at Rutgers New Brunswick.
"The current national standard for graduation rates is six years, and Rutgers' rate is 75 percent, comparable to AAU (Association of American Universities) peers," Manas said in an e-mail. "The latest graduation rate for four years is 52 percent."
Maryjane Briant, a spokeswoman for Stockton College, confirmed Cryan’s graduation rate number for the Atlantic County school for students starting in 2004, but noted that the number has climbed significantly since.
The four-year graduation rate for Stockton students starting school in fall 2009 was 53 percent, she said.
To reiterate, Cryan’s numbers are accurate for students starting their degrees 10 years ago, but schools that spoke with us generally pointed to higher graduation rates from more recent timeframes.
Cryan said many families that save money to send their children to college plan or expect it to be a four -year program, not six. And he re-emphasized his concern that institutions accepting state money for higher education need to be more accountable for on-time graduation rates. He also disagreed that it’s unfair to compare students attending schools that may have different missions and demographics.
"What demographic is allowed not to graduate on time?" he said. "What students do you favor over others as a result?
Cryan said, "What do Rutgers University, Kean University, Montclair State University, New Jersey City University, Stockton College, Rowan University and William Paterson all have in common? They all graduate less than 50 percent of their students within four years."
Cryan cited statistics reported by the schools he names for first-time, full-time students starting a four-year program in 2004. The graduation rates trend upward, though, for more recent years, and the rates jump substantially for students who took six years to earn their bachelor’s degree.
Still, Cryan’s claim is technically accurate and we therefore rate his claim True.
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