Thoughts on Variability in Graduation Rates at Engineering Colleges

Thoughts on Variability in Graduation Rates at Engineering Colleges

As universities are celebrating commencement exercises with their graduates this month, it is an appropriate time to talk about graduation rates and congratulate engineering colleges with high graduation rates. 

One might ask: What is the range on graduation rates at U.S. engineering colleges. The answer may surprise you.  Some colleges graduate almost 100% of their students in 5 years; however, for some colleges, the graduation rate is less than 20%.  Read on to find out more about the variation in the 5-year graduation rates at U.S. engineering college and its relationship to first year retention. 

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Future Reading: Systems Thinking in K-12 Education

My colleague Franklin Schargel has written a blog that highlights Dr. Lee Jenkins' book, Optimizing Your School: It's All About the Strategy.   I have been planning on writing a recommendation of this book in this blog so I was delighted to see Franklin's blog.  I want to take this opportunity to say I agree with Franklin and recommend Dr. Jenkins' book.   

Please read Franklin Schargel's blog here

As Franklin indicates in his blog, Optimizing Your School suggests a systems approach for successful student learning. This approach encompasses a student-focused culture and inclusiveness.  As an advocate for continuous improvement in education, I especially like the discussions on continuous strategic improvement leadership.  The discussions of related processes, teamwork and use of simple visual displays in the classroom are icing on the cake.  

Definitely, recommended reading!  

Joyful reading!

Cindy Veenstra, PhD, ASQ Fellow

State Baldrige Programs

Baldrige is an approach to systems thinking and continuous improvement for organizational performance excellence.  Most states have a state wide networking organization to mentor organizations for exploring Baldrige thinking and to apply for state-wide awards for performance excellence.  In the education sector, the effort in exploring Baldrige can lead to significant improvement in alignment of processes and improved student achievement and retention.  The organization known as the Alliance for Performance Excellence guides the state Baldrige programs. Check out their website for the Baldrige program in your state .


Cindy Veenstra 

STEM Index Identifies Progress in Advancing the STEM Agenda

STEM Index Identifies Progress in Advancing the STEM Agenda

In 2011, 2012 and 2013, I chaired the ASQ Advancing the STEM Agenda Conferences.  This was an effort to bring more awareness to the need for more STEM professionals and to network among educators and employers to improve our STEM education processes and collaboration with industry.

Since then, US News and Raytheon have teamed up to develop a composite STEM Index that includes education indices, AP test results, and employment statistics such as the number of STEM jobs in each of the STEM categories.  The components of the STEM Index are displayed so one can see which areas are growing the most and which areas are not advancing. 

The link for the 2015 STEM Index is:

Some significant facts:

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Introverts and Flipped Classrooms

The Atlantic publishes an article "When Schools Overlook Introverts"  .  

It is an interesting article and this particular topic needs more attention among college educators.  

"This growing emphasis in classrooms on group projects and  other interactive arrangements can be challenging for introverted students who tend to perform better when they're working independently and in more subdued environments."

LIkewise, if all the college classes are flipped classrooms, it can be overwhelming for an introvert.  The same is true for the current trend towards open "agile" work environments, especially in the computing fields. 

Cindy Veenstra, PhD





The College Scorecard: How it was created

This U.S. Department of Education blog describes how the College Scorecard was generated, the data that was included and the benefits of the Scorecard.

With a focus on being customer and student-focused, the developers of the College Scorecard talked with groups of high school students to ask them what would help them in their college searches.  To be agile, prototypes of examples for smart phones were quickly developed.  The article provides more information on how the Scorecard was developed and its usefulness to students and their families on their college choices and decisions.  

The College Scorecard is at

Cindy Veenstra, PhD


College Scorecard Provides New Information on Financial Aid and Earnings

College Scorecard Provides New Information on Financial Aid and Earnings

Yesterday, the Obama administration released  a  college scorecard database system , that will help future students and their parents make financial decisions about which college to attend.   NPR called it a “torrent of data”.

It will also enable researchers to better understand the impact of the higher education processes on student success during and after college.     Here is a detailed summary of the Scorecard, published by Inside Higher Education.

This article published in the New York Times today shows that there are gaps in earnings across colleges. It is a worthwhile article to read.

I know of two main aspects of the Scorecard.  The first is a very user-friendly website to view one college, or a group of colleges , such as all colleges for a particular state.  For example, one can select only public or private colleges, or 4-year colleges vs. 2-year community colleges.  The Scorecard webpage includes easy viewing of graphics of Average annual cost, 6-year graduation rate, and Median salary of students who received federal financial aid, 10 years after entering college.  In addition, clicking on “View More Details” for each college gives much more detail including net annual cost of college by family income levels, ACT/SAT scores, first-year retention,  average debt after college and percent of students paying down their loans within 3 years of graduation.

As an example, here is a link to the 4 –year public colleges and universities in Michigan, sorted by graduation rates. I hope my Michigan colleagues enjoy seeing this set of graphs.  (This can be displayed for any state. )

The graphs paint a picture of an excellent return in alumni income given the average cost of college in Michigan.  The average cost of college per student for Michigan’s public colleges is less than the national average for all but one college, while all the public colleges show a median income 10 years after  students started  above the national average (for those students who received federal financial aid). 

However, the graduation rates need much improvement   with eight of the public colleges showing a 6-year graduation rate less than 50%.   Note that most of these colleges have strong first year retention percentages, which is a good indication that the graduation rates can be improved with more attention to retention and upperclass student success processes.  

The second aspect of the College Scorecard is that several databases are accessible.  They are available at the College Scorecard Data website

Look for future blogs on this Scorecard after I have had a chance to look at it in more detail. Very Exciting!


Cindy Veenstra, PhD, ASQ Fellow

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Update on SAT Scores

Today, Inside Higher Education reports a summary of SAT scores for 2015.  The averages are flat to down a few points.  The 2015 average for critical reading is 495, for mathematics is 511 and for writing is 484.  

ACT scores are reported as also flat compared to previous years . 

Research has shown that the SAT and ACT scores are strong predictors of preparedness for college-level studies.  This is especially true for college STEM majors. 

The article is at:

If we are to meet the demand for increasing the STEM workforce through higher rates of college STEM graduation, we need to see higher levels of ACT and SAT scores. The systemic problems of K-12 education need to be addressed. More support for K-12 education is needed. 

Cindy Veenstra, PhD, ASQ Fellow


Improving Diversity in Engineering Colleges

Improving Diversity in Engineering Colleges

In a letter published by the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE),  Deans of engineering colleges in the U.S. committed to "to provide increased opportunity to pursue meaningful engineering careers to women and other underrepresented demographic groups" and to ensure that their  institutions "provide educational experiences that are inclusive and prevent marginalization of any groups of people because of visible or invisible differences." 

The commitment to diversity includes four points:

1) Develop a Diversity Plan to improve diversity in their engineering college

2)Commit to supporting at least one K-12 or community  college outreach activity

3) "Commit to developing strong partnerships between research-intensive engineering schools and non-PhD granting engineering schools serving populations underrepresented in engineering. "

4) "Commit to the development and implementation of proactive strategies to increase the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in our faculty."

The ASEE letter of commitment to diversity and engineering colleges making this commitment is available at this link.

This is a strong leadership commitment that should lead to increased graduation of women and minorities in engineering. 

Cindy Veenstra, PhD, ASQ Fellow 

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