Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Goldwater Institute: Sorting out fact from fiction in Arizona higher education

MattBy Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
In response to an email we published last week, a high ranking official from one of Arizona's universities sent an email to Arizona lawmakers. A number of claims were made, including "four-year graduation rates are not compared nationally." The email further claims that "by carefully selecting a handful of institutions with higher graduation rates, Ladner misrepresents the facts to create the world as he would like others to see it." Finally, there is some discussion of possible sources of error in graduation rates.

graduationNeedless to say, this email made its way to Goldwater central command and I'm delighted to reply.

Four year graduation rates are in fact compared nationally, as shown by the link I provided last week to the Education Trust website. Here it is again. The Education Trust, by the way, is one of the nation's most highly respected left-of-center research organizations.

Cherry picking to make Arizona universities look bad? Again, not true. I made comparisons between Arizona State University and its peer institutions as identified by the Education Trust according to an objective set of criteria.

What about possible measurement error in graduation rates? I certainly wouldn't bet on ASU's four year graduation rate being precisely 28 percent. The possible sources of error, however, would also apply to the peer institutions. So perhaps ASU did have a little more than 28 percent of their students graduate on time, but the gap between ASU and its top performing peer (IU Bloomington, at over 50 percent) may be completely unchanged.

The official did, however, get one thing right, accurately describing me as "easily confused." Guilty as charged. I am indeed easily confused by outrageous, laugh-out-loud claims that are easily identifiable as inaccurate. Personally, I'd want far more than 28 percent of my students graduating on time before claiming that Arizona's tenuous hold on first world status hinges on my budget.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.
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