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The Weekly Blab 4.15

The Weekly Blab

Volume 4, Issue 15—April 4, 2010


I hope everyone had a great Easter, Passover, or Nowruz!


Retention, Progression, and Graduation

It seems we’re always talking about our retention and graduation rates, but we’ve never had really good data to go with the discussion.  Well, Bibhuti Shrestha and Kelly Payton (from IT) have generated an excellent web report (WSHR 2000) which gives us, name by name, each student who enrolled in a given term, their major, how many credits they took in the subsequent 25 terms, whether they graduated, and several other things.  At the suggestion of my job shadow Dr. Al Panu, we divided the students into four categories:  full-time students who started at SPSU (FTSP), full-time students who transferred to SPSU (FTTR), part-time students who started at SPSU (PTSP), and part-time students who transferred to SPSU (PTTR).


I’ve been doing some number crunching the past week or so, and the results are very interesting.  [SPOILER NOTE:  All the following numbers are preliminary, and will probably require some scrubbing.]  First off, the four groups are very different in size.  In the fall, the FTSP group is about 50% of our fall students, with FTTR being 25%, PTSPSU 10%, and PTTR 15%.  Spring is quite different.  It’s about 40% of the fall in size, and distributed quite differently:  FTSP is about 15%, FTTR is about 40%, PTSP is about 20%, and FTTR is 25%. 


Second, the four groups have very different graduation rates.  Using the Fall 2003 cohort as an example, the students overall graduated at a 33% rate.  The FTSP group graduated at a 31.6% rate, the FTTR group at 43.4%, the PTSP group at 9.1%, and the PTTR group at 29.9%.  Most people were aware that transfer students did better than “native” students, but I sure didn’t know it was almost 50% better.


Third, our students take longer to graduate than students at most other colleges.  This should be no surprise for two reasons:  (1) our majors are harder than average, and (2), they require more courses and are hierarchically stacked (i.e, lots of prerequisites).  How big is the difference?  In Fall 2003, our overall graduation rate was 33% after 8 years, and there were still an additional 5.7% of our students still working at completing their degrees.  Assuming that half of them eventually make it, that will bring the final rate to 35.8%.


The most important question is:  are we doing better?  I’m pleased to report that the answer is clearly “yes”.  For the FTSP cohort that began in Fall 1998, our 6-year rate was 21.7%.  For 2003, the rate is 29.7%.  In Fall 1998, the 8 year graduation rate for the FTSP group was 28.3%.  We can extrapolate out to the 2005 cohort with excellent accuracy (since a plot of percentage of students retained into 4th year correlates almost perfectly with 8 year graduation rate.  The graph indicates that our overall graduation rate for the 2005 Fall cohort will be 38.8%.


Numbers for the Spring cohorts are more variable, since there are far fewer new full-time students.  Nonetheless, the numbers are improving sharply—the retention rate into 4th year has risen from 28.1% for the Spring 1999 cohort to 54.2% for the Spring 2007 cohort (which would be into Fall 2009).


Who’s Tough?

We always new that SPSU was a challenging university.  But just how challenging is it?  Turns out that a California professor named Stuart Rojstaczer has written an article called ““A” the Hard Way 2010: GradeInflation.com’s Sweet Sixteen of Tough Graders” in his blog, and guess who was in the group?  Yep—SPSU.  For some reason, we were put in the Midwest Region, but the entry reads: “Southern Polytechnic State. Another hard-nosed science and engineering school.  Its state rival Georgia Tech is no piece of cake either, but SPSU gets the nod for a Sweet 16 seed this year.”  Who are the other 15 finalists?  No-one you ever heard of, just places like RPI, Princeton, BU, MIT, Purdue, Auburn, FIU, and Harvey Mudd.  CalTech and Berkeley?  Didn’t even make the cut!


In another article, Rojstaczer shows that the percentage of “A” grades has risen pretty monotonically from about 15% of grades awarded to almost 45% from 1940 to today.  “B’s” have remained more or less steady at 35%, but “C’s” have dropped from 35% to below 15%.  Except at SPSU, of course.  :>)


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest is on the subject of South America, and the prize was a 2-CD set by the Ventures (which have nothing that I know of to do with South America, but what the heck.)  Bernice stole the prize with a measly two correct.  I guess our faculty and staff just aren’t drinking enough rich Colombian coffee!


1.  What two South American countries have won the most World Cups in soccer?  Brazil and Argentina.

2.  From where in South America is the world’s most valuable postage stamp? British Guiana (now called Guyana).

3.  In what South American country is Devil’s Island?  French Guyana.

4.  What was the first major Hollywood motion picture starring Betty Grable, and also the fabulous Nicholas Brothers?  Down Argentine Way.

5.  What was the first time that armored vehicles (i.e., tanks) were used in a cross-border war in the Americas, and who used them?  The War of the Gran Chaco, between Bolivia and Paraguay from 1928-1935.  Bolivia used the armor.  Both countries lost, in that their economies were devastated for decades.  A treaty demarcating the border was finally signed, if you can believe it, on April 28, 2009.


This Week’s Trivia Contest

This week’s contest is on the subject of Australia, and the prize will be yet another jazz CD.  No peeking on the web, now!


1.  What is the state in Australia that is an island?

2.  In the song “Waltzing Matilda”, what does “Matilda” refer to, and what does “waltzing” her mean?

3.  What movie was on the subject of taking aboriginal children away from their parents in order to “civilize” them?

4.  In what single battle in WWI did Australia lose the most troops?

5.  What is the best selling comic-book in Australia?