Traditional Student Demand

Eduventures 2017 Student Success Ratings: Top Scorers and Emerging Trends

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When it comes to our student success ratings, we learn something new every year. In fact, the measurable shift from year to year is the reason we conduct an annual review. Institutions move on, make strides, conquer old problems, and attack new ones. What remains true is that institutions that improve student success learn from their high-performing peers.


Our 2017 Student Success Ratings are available right now. Here are the top three scorers in six institutional categories.


California State University-Fresno

Rutgers University-Newark

University of California-Riverside

Massachusetts Maritime Academy

California State University-San Bernardino

Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania

University of New Hampshire at Manchester

Virginia Military Institute

Farmingdale State College


Immaculata University

Yeshiva University

Maryville University of Saint Louis

Lakeland College

Hope International University

William Carey University

Spelman College

College of the Ozarks

Berea College


Surprised that some of last year’s powerhouses, like top overall scorer University of South Florida, are not in the top three? Not to worry, USF is still in the top 15 along with three of its State University System of Florida peers. California and Texas public institutions also continue to have a strong presence in the ratings as well. Among private doctoral level institutions, Yeshiva dropped only one position to number two. The old guard is still very much present.

But some new names have bubbled up to the top. Stalwart institutions who’ve already achieved great success tend to plateau while institutions that are just hitting their stride experience rapid acceleration.

Here’s a quick refresher on how our ratings work (for more details on our methodology, click here). We develop a regression model that predicts an aggregate student success score based on institutional and student characteristics. The aggregate score is simply the addition of first-year retention and six-year graduation rates for first-time, full-time undergraduates. We also examine ten-year trends. Institutions receive a normalized score (from 0 to 100) in four areas: performance relative to their predicted student success score, performance given the room they had for improvement, retention trend, and graduation trend. The four scores are averaged to create an overall score that also can vary between zero at the low end and 100 at the high end.

Changes in ranking capture strong performance, but in some cases also category shifts. For example, among public universities, California State University – Fresno shot to the top of the ratings in its first year categorized as a doctoral institution. In last year’s ratings, as a public master’s level institution, Fresno ranked 26th. In its new category as a doctoral institution, Fresno moved to the top due to vastly out-performing its predicted student success score based on institutional characteristics. Fresno also improved its six-year graduation rate by 15 points in the ten year time frame studied, a strong performance in any category. Mass Maritime Academy maintained its stellar performance in the public baccalaureate, but it moved sideways to the public master’s list, leaving the door open for the University of New Hampshire’s Manchester campus, unranked in last year’s model due to missing data, to take top spot in public baccalaureate.

Among the not-for-profit privates, Immaculata University moved from eighth position to overtake Yeshiva for the top spot in the doctoral category. Lakeland University moved from deep in the pack to the number one spot on the private master’s list by making much bigger strides on retention in the 2005 – 2015 time frame (13 points better) in comparison to the improvement it made from 2004-2014 (only 2 points better). Hope International University switched categories to move from the number one institution among baccalaureate level privates to the number two position in the master’s category.

Like Lakeland, Spelman College made a big move with a huge improvement in first-year retention in the 2005-2015 time frame. Berea College and College of the Ozarks reshuffled last year’s top five positions to round out the top three in this category.

We’ve just started to dig into the scores to see what and whom we can learn from this year, but here are two emerging trends that struck us from our initial look at the data.

Emerging Trend 1: Improvement in graduation is cooling, improvement in retention is heating up

Compared to the previous ten year frame (2004-14), the improvement that institutions, especially publics, made between 2005 and 2015 in six-year graduation rates suggests gains are slowing while the improvement in first-year retention rate is heating up. As time passes and performance in the baseline year get higher, we expect these trends to continue. Other factors, however, such as the enrollment boom during the Great Recession and state-specific initiatives, will also be important.

Average Change in First-Year Retention and Six Year Graduation by Institutional Category

Completion has been the number one priority for many public institutions while first-year retention was an important contributor but not always a goal in its own right. Many of the top performing institutions have been laser focused on critical issues related to completion, including advising, degree planning, managing gateway courses, and incentivizing time-to-degree. Further gains in completion just get harder to come by and the rate of improvement will inevitably slow.

As public institution efforts toward degree completion mature, successful institutions begin to turn their attention to first-year retention as a next area of improvement. Of course, making more effort to support first-year students will further enhance the overall completion agenda.

Emerging trend 2: Private Institutions with highly focused missions beat the street on serving high risk students

One of the commonalities of successful private institutions is the highly specified missions they articulate. The leading institutions among private baccalaureate institutions embody this specialization perfectly. Spelman College is an HBCU with a mission to provide unparalleled education for women of African descent. Berea College serves racially diverse students with limited economic resources from Appalachia. Berea offers free tuition, hires all its students for campus employment, and provides a high quality liberal arts education. College of the Ozarks has a similar mission. It provides Christian education for students without sufficient means. Like Berea, there is no tuition, employment for all, and a promise of no student debt.

These are special places that blow their predicted scores out of the water, most likely because they understand their students’ needs very well. High expectations and the right ecosystem of support lead to success if you truly understand your students’ needs at a granular level.

Those are our quick thoughts on our fresh student success ratings. Have a look at the ratings and see where you are and what you think. At Eduventures we’ll use the ratings to develop new case studies of top performers. We will also examine two areas that contribute to high performance: strong advising and mentoring ecosystems, and the strategic use of technology.


If you have questions or feedback on Eduventures Student Success Ratings or our methodology, please contact Principal Analyst Kim Reid.



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