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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke July 13, 2010

Hochberg says only one third of Texas college students graduate

Texas’ high school graduation rate has become a serious talking point in this election cycle, but there are other students we should fret about too, says Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.

"We do have a serious problem in this state," he said to a June 25 caucus at the Texas Democratic convention. "We have many. But one of them is when our kids graduate from high school, the proportion that go to college is small. And more seriously, even those who go, only about a third of them are getting through."

Two out of three Texas students who go to college don’t graduate? We wondered.

As back-up, Hochberg forwarded us data he received from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees the state’s public colleges and universities. The board tracked students who were in seventh grade in 1997-98 and therefore could have graduated from college by 2009.

Results? Some 32 percent of the 168,739 students who entered a Texas college after high school had graduated within a six-year period with a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree or certificate (in real estate or law enforcement, for example).

A couple of caveats: First, the data don’t account for students who enrolled in a Texas institution and then transferred out of state. Second, while the enrollment data include the 6 percent of students who attended school out of state, it doesn’t track whether they graduated.

A one-time shot of grant money did allow the board to track how many Texans enrolled in 7th grade in 1994-95 had earned college degrees both in and out of state within a six-year period by 2006. It found that of 8,028 high school graduates enrolled in school out of state, almost 50 percent earned a degree or certificate. However, of 134,473 students enrolled in Texas, 36.5 percent graduated. Combined, about 37 percent of the tracked graduates earned a degree or certificate.

Andy Kesling, the board’s communications director, said Hochberg is correct that only about one-third of those students graduated from a Texas college.

But, he said, it "all depends on how you look at the data. One thing I’m really concerned about is people go away with the impression that only one third of the students going to school in Texas are graduating. If you look at the six-year graduation rate of Texas universities, the graduation rate is 57 percent."

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That means that of the students who entered a four-year public university in Texas in the fall of 2002, 57 percent graduated within six years, by September 2009. That includes students who transferred to another public or private school in Texas.

Hochberg quibbles with that graduation rate because it excludes the many students who attend institutions like community colleges. "It’s not apples to apples," he said. "It’s only the best apples."

Of some 300,000 Texas students who were enrolled in 7th grade in 1997-98, about 63,800 later enrolled in a four-year school, like the University of Texas, while 90,800 enrolled in a two-year school, like Austin Community College. That is, about 60 percent of students pursuing post-secondary education go the community college route.

Their graduation rate is far lower. Of the students enrolled full time at a community college in the fall of 2002, the board found that only 11 percent graduated within three years, by 2005.

The coordinating board isn’t alone in tracking college graduation rates.

Using U.S. Census Bureau data, the Chronicle of Higher Education, a Washington-based journal, reported in April that 30.7 percent of Texas 25- to 34-year-olds had college degrees, compared to 38 percent nationally.

Then there’s the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, which found that as of 2008, 49 percent of first-time full-time Texas students seeking a bachelor’s degree graduated within six years, ranking the state 35th nationally. Looking at the percentage of first-time full-time students seeking their associate degrees, the center found Texas fared worse: 18.6 percent, ranking 41st in the country. Looking at the raw numbers, we found that 35.2 percent of students seeking an associate or bachelor’s degree graduated.

Where does this leave Hochberg’s statement?

As we learned in earlier checking candidate claims about high-school graduation rates, there are several ways to sort the numbers. The state’s six-year graduation rate at universities, for example, is far higher than the rate Hochberg cites. Yet rolling students seeking associate degrees into the equation supports Hochberg’s assessment. About a third of Texas students lately graduate from a Texas college. His statement is True.

Our Sources

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, FY 1998 7th grade cohort tracked through FY 2009 higher education, April 29, 2010

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, FY 1995 7th grade cohort tracked through FY 2006 higher education, accessed July 8, 2010

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Statewide totals: community college performance - success, FY 2000, 2007, 2008

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Statewide totals: university performance - success, FY 1999, 2006, 2007, 2008

The Chronicle of Higher Education, Proportion of adults 25 to 34 with college degrees, April 11, 2010 (subscription only)

National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, Graduation rates, 2008

Interview with Andy Kesling, communications director for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, July 8, 2010

Interview with Rep. Scott Hochberg, July 8, 2010

Interview with Dominic Chavez, interim senior director for external relations, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, July 12, 2010

E-mail interview with Stephanie Germeraad, director of communications, The Education Trust, July 12, 2010

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Hochberg says only one third of Texas college students graduate

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