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Rethinking Graduation and Time to Degree: A Fresh Perspective


Graduation and time to degree are paramount concerns in higher education today and have caught the attention of policy makers, educators and researchers in recent years. However, our understanding is limited regarding the factors related to graduation and time to degree beyond students’ pre-college characteristics (demographics and academic preparation), especially how student decision and performance in college affect their graduation. This study employs longitudinal data and applies event history analysis to track 12,096 first-time freshmen in a large public university from 2002 to 2014. Students’ academic progress is conceptualized into eight time-dependent variables whose values change over time, including major status (major change, double majors/minors and major declaration), enrollment intensity (enrolled term units and extra enrollment), and academic performance (term GPA, cumulative units and cumulative GPA). Discrete-time hazard models were used to answer the following question: beyond pre-college characteristics, what aspects of students’ decisions on majors and enrollment and their performance affect graduation and time to degree? The findings reveal that academic performance is the most important factor, followed by students’ decisions on majors (such as having double majors/minors). Pre-college characteristics only accounted for a very small proportion of the total variance after students’ performance and decisions are controlled. The study goes further in investigating how the effects of these factors change over time by enrolled terms.

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  1. Our data show that students with HS GPA 3.5 or higher are twice as likely to take double majors or minors in college as those whose HS GPA is below 3.00.


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Yue, H., Fu, X. Rethinking Graduation and Time to Degree: A Fresh Perspective. Res High Educ 58, 184–213 (2017).

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  • Graduation
  • Time to degree
  • Enrolled terms
  • Event history analysis
  • Time-dependent variables
  • Time-varying effects