The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Two Penn researchers are pinpointing the differences between those who graduate from college and those who do not.

Last month, Graduate School of Education professors Laura Perna and Marybeth Gasman discussed some of their recent research findings at the U.S. Department of Education’s conference, Evidence-Action-Innovation: A College Completion Symposium.

Among other things, one of Perna and Gasman’s major findings is that minority-serving institutions have greater success in terms of student retention and degree attainment.

“It’s vital that we as a nation use every means necessary to educate and graduate students of color,” Gasman wrote in an email.

Once Gasman and Perna complete their research, they plan on publishing articles and a book that “captures these successes and helps other minority-serving institutions and majority institutions to adopt these types of practices,” Gasman added.

At last month’s symposium, the researchers’ aim was to inform attendees which types of institutional practices are best in promoting and improving college graduation rates, especially for students in traditionally underrepresented groups.

“I’ve looked at state policies to see how we can improve the curricular alignment between high school and college,” Perna said. “We’re not really making much process, so the Department of Education is working to identify the different types of programs that are being shown through research to improve college completion.”

According to Perna, reasons why many students do not complete college include the cost of tuition, working long hours off campus and a lack of academic preparedness.

Together, Perna and Gasman are looking for ways to solve these problems.

“This is an issue that is getting an awful lot of attention,” Perna said. “The overall completion rates for the nation have to be higher than they are. Too many students are investing time and money into starting degree programs and they’re not finishing.”

In the case of Penn, though, these findings might not hold true.

According to College Results — an organization that compiles information about completion rates, among other statistics — Penn has a four-year graduation rate of 87.6 percent and a six-year graduation rate of 95 percent.

“The issues at Penn are different. The overall graduation rate is quite high at Penn, and that is a good thing,” Perna said. “There are some variations in the experiences of students. For Penn, I think the issue is more about ensuring high quality experience for students from all groups that enroll.”

Gasman agreed, adding that their conclusions could benefit Penn when it comes to retaining minority students.

“These issues are typically not a problem for more elite institutions, but there is always much to learn in terms of making the experiences of students of color more valuable and comparable to that of majority students,” she wrote.

Graduate School of Education professor Shaun Harper added that Perna and Gasman’s research touches upon a hot-button topic in higher education today.

“Most of the conversation about graduation rates tends to be one-sided and researchers tend to focus on why students are not graduating,” he said. “Right now, there is considerable public attention being placed on college completion.”

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.