Four-year student graduation rate at the University of Oklahoma is 35.7 percent

The four-year graduation rate for students at the University of Oklahoma is 35.7 percent – just over one-third of the undergraduate student body — according to OU-generated data provided this week to CapitolBeatOK. 

An advertisement published in four newspapers on March 13 touted a 67.8 percent graduation rate. However, that is the six-year graduation rate, a university official said in response to questions. 

In response to inquiries from CapitolBeatOK, OU Vice President (Public Affairs) Catherine Bishop said, “The ads were published March 13 in the Oklahoma Daily (OU newspaper), the Tulsa World, the Norman Transcript and the Oklahoman.  The total cost for all four ads, which were paid for using University funds, was $28,569.54.

“We use nationally recognized data collection methods that are then verified by other sources.”  

Bishop continued, “As you know, one of the major goals statewide – from the Governor, to the State Regents, to Chambers of Commerce and organizations such as the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs – is to increase the number of college graduates in our state.

“Increasing the graduation rate provides the greatest possible return to the taxpayers of Oklahoma.  We think it is always important to celebrate and call attention to our students’ academic success.  We hope our example will encourage and inspire others.”

According to a narrative provided by Bishop, “Every institution calculates its own graduation rate but follows rules for the calculation of this rate as defined in the annual IPEDS [note: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System] survey by the US Department of Education.

 “To do this calculation you must use individual student data that is not publically available so usually only the institution can do the calculation.  In Oklahoma this calculation is also done by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education [OSRHE] with their Unitized Data System. 

“Each year OU and the other state institutions reconcile this calculation student by student with the OSRHE so we all have a double check of our logic and methodology.  There are national studies of these data but they use aggregate data provided by the institutions, usually through the IPEDS survey. 

“OU is the home to the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (CSRDE).  The source data for this consortium is aggregate data by race and gender also not individual student data and is provided by each institution in the data exchange.
“The most current 4-year graduation rate at OU is for the students entering in Fall 2007 – 35.7%.
“The current 6-year cohort (2005) had a rate of 35.7% at the 4-year point, 62.0% at the 5-year point and 67.8% at the 6-year point. The average time to degree at OU is about 4.8 years, which is the reason for the big jump by the 5-year point.”

The data provided by Bishop varies slightly from current (but apparently dated) information at the website of the Institute of Education Services, an arm of the National Center for Education Statistics, where the IPEDS data is available. 

Information there appears slightly older (through 2010) and hints at improvement in more recent graduation rates, as asserted in the OU advertisement’s text. 

According to that information for the “2003 cohort” at the Norman campus, the four-year graduation rate was 32 percent; the five year rate was 57 percent; and the six-year rate was 63 percent. 

Inquiries were made after CapitolBeatOK confirmed that information after discerning that data in the OU advertisement reflected a longer than four-year period. Questions to OU from this reporter were:

“What is the source for the six-year rate given in the advertisement — the university’s own analysis or one of the national benchmarks? … Please confirm the four-year graduation rate? I am also asking for the exact cost of that advertisement in The Oklahoman. If it ran in any other newspapers, please tell me which ones it ran in, and what the total cost for that was. Also, please tell me from which arm or related entity of the University was payment provided, the University itself, a Foundation, a private donor?”

The text of the original advertisement follows. (A “jpeg” photo of the advertisement as printed in The Oklahoman is provided with this story.) The text reads:

“Congratulations to OU Students, Faculty and Staff for Achieving the Highest Graduation Rate at a State University! 67.8%. This is up from 40.5% in 1994. 

“President David Boren said, ‘This achievement is the product of a great effort by the entire University community. We have a task force hard at work with 70% already in our sights. High graduation rates give Oklahoma taxpayers a good return on their investment.’

“The University of Oklahoma is an equal opportunity institution.

“OU – The Pride of Oklahoma.” 

Institutions of Higher Education throughout the nation are commonly referred to as “four-year colleges and universities.” 

A common short-hand reference made for undergraduate education is to “four-year” programs, including at the website of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

Although OU and OSU have the best graduation rates in the Sooner State, increasingly reference to “four-year” programs of undergraduate instruction describe a minority of students at the state’s two comprehensive universities, even those who graduate.