Why Have College Completion Rates Increased? An Analysis of Rising Grades

71 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2021 Last revised: 1 May 2021

See all articles by Jeffrey Denning

Jeffrey Denning

Brigham Young University

Eric Eide

Brigham Young University

Kevin J. Mumford

Purdue University

Richard Patterson

United States Military Academy, West Point

Merrill Warnick

Brigham Young University

Date Written: April 2021

Abstract

College completion rates declined from the 1970s to the 1990s. We document that this trend has reversed--since the 1990s, college completion rates have increased. We investigate the reasons for the increase in college graduation rates. Collectively, student characteristics, institutional resources, and institution attended do not explain much of the change. However, we show that grade inflation can explain much of the change in graduation rates. We show that GPA is a strong predictor of graduation rates and that GPAs have been rising since the 1990s. We also find that in national survey data and rich administrative data from 9 large public universities increases in college GPAs cannot be explained by student demographics, preparation, and school factors. Further, we find that at a public liberal arts college, grades have increased over time conditional on final exam performance.

Institutional subscribers to the NBER working paper series, and residents of developing countries may download this paper without additional charge at www.nber.org.

Suggested Citation

Denning, Jeffrey and Eide, Eric and Mumford, Kevin J. and Patterson, Richard and Warnick, Merrill, Why Have College Completion Rates Increased? An Analysis of Rising Grades (April 2021). NBER Working Paper No. w28710, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3834150

Jeffrey Denning (Contact Author)

Brigham Young University ( email )

Provo, UT 84602
United States

Eric Eide

Brigham Young University ( email )

Provo, UT 84602
United States

Kevin J. Mumford

Purdue University ( email )

West Lafayette, IN 47907-1310
United States
7654966773 (Phone)
7654967434 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.mgmt.purdue.edu/faculty/kjmumfor/home.asp

Richard Patterson

United States Military Academy, West Point ( email )

600 Thayer Rd
West Point, NY 10996
United States

Merrill Warnick

Brigham Young University

Provo, UT 84602
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
3
Abstract Views
97
PlumX Metrics