Tuesday, December 15, 2009

12 percent graduate from college? That's not true.

Jack Brammer and Beth Musgrave reported by blog today that Speaker Greg Stumbo "said he was particularly alarmed to learn Tuesday that only 12 of every 100 students in Kentucky who enter the ninth grade graduate from college."

I'd be alarmed, too, if I though the 12 of 100 was true.

Fortunately, I know it is false.

For the last four years, our colleges and universities have awarded more than 18,000 bachelor's degrees per year. That could only be 12 percent of a ninth grade class if the ninth grade class in question had 150,000 students in it.

Our total population aged 5 to 17 has been between 700,000 and 750,000 for the last two decades. Dividing that equally over 13 grades, we should not have had more than 60,000 of the right age to enter high school in any of those years.

There is simply no way to fit the numbers together.

The 12 percent figure is simply, bluntly, not true.


  1. Actually that number might be more accurate than you think. You can't really divide the total student population by 13 to get the result you intend.

    The real problem here is that children prior to the 10th grade or so cannot drop out of school. However, as you enter high school and the more rigorous (hopefully) curriculum, there will be a tendency for failure and discouragement resulting in students who withdraw at sixteen and who are no where near graduation.

    So as student enrollment declines during high school those four years cannot be used as a factor with the same value as the previous nine. Otherwise, in theory you would have as many seniors as you would kindergartners and we know that is not true.

    So, the 12% figure might not be accurate but might be closer than expected if you use the model as discribed in the earlier comment.

  2. Anon,

    My population number is a population number, not a student count. My source is Table 17 in the 2008 Digest of Education Statistics, and that table is based on multiple years of Census Bureau, Current Population Reports.

    Further, I rounded up dramatically to get 750,000 as the upper number, and after dividing upper, I rounded up again to get the 60,000. My outer limit of how many students could have enter ninth grade is sound.

    If you've got a source showing even 100,000 ninth graders in a single year at any time since 1990, feel free to share.

  3. What is particularly telling, beyond the numbers, is how a seemingly scientific figure--only 12 out of 100 ninth graders graduate KY high schools--was articulated by an elected official and amplified, unexamined, by other credible writers. Reminds me of the J.Goebbels quote, "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." All of which is to simply say: So glad you are monitoring this stuff, Susan!

  4. This is a credible, if out-of-date statistic, usually referred to as the number of ninth-graders who graduate from high school, go straight to college, and earn a degree within 150% of the minimum time to degree. This figure was 18% in 2006. Full details are available on www.higheredinfo.org, following "student success" then "progress and completion" then "student pipeline."

  5. For 2005-06, Kentucky higher education produced 18,224 bachelor's degrees. That's 18 percent of what number? It's 18 percent of a bit more than100,000.

    Earlier, my dare to the previous Anon was "If you've got a source showing even 100,000 ninth graders in a single year at any time since 1990, feel free to share."

    To tailor that of the most recent Anon, I'd be delighted to see any source suggesting that Kentucky had 100,000 ninth graders in 1995-96.

    Meanwhile, I flatly don't believe any number that implies more than 60,000 first-time ninth graders

  6. Lew says:
    Let's understand that a significant percentage of college graduates from Kentucky colleges and universities are NOT products of Kentucky high schools. So the numerator in this calculation is vastly inflated if it doesn't take into account out-of-staters.

  7. Lew,

    You're right that I've been treating migration as a wash. I was simplifying by ignoring both Kentucky kids graduating elsewhere and non-Kentucky kids graduating here. I haven't yet found any data source that would let me tease that out.

    I can offer some sandlot numbers, though. Looking at freshmen enrolling in 2000, 82 percent of freshmen in Kentucky schools were Kentucky residents. 82 percent of the 2006 graduates would be 14,944. For that group to be 18 percent of a high school class, that class would have to have 83,020 members.

    Oh, and we should add in the 3,067 Kentucky residents who enrolled in out of state colleges the same year. Let's just say that for the 18 percent to hold up, the relevant ninth grade would have to have included those 3,067. We'll assume that not a single one of them every finished college. So, let's say there had to have been 86,000 ninth graders.

    I'd be delighted to see any source suggesting that Kentucky had 86,000 ninth graders in 1995-96 or any other year since 1990.

    We've got plenty of real Kentucky kids who need us to do a better job. We don't need to spend our time weeping over how we've failed imaginary children who never lived here at all.

  8. Lew,

    Tambien, me gusta mucho www.ertia.net y mis lectores internacionales. Gracias por ligar. ¿Hay ninguna palabra española para "web site"?


Updates and data on Kentucky education!