Graduation Rates Revisited

My blog statistics show that an old post from 2013 on Engineering Failure Rates continues to be a popular one to visit. There is an updated one available too, from 2018. As those blogs note, the data is from Ontario’s CUDO website and their definition of “success” is rather broad. If you start in Engineering, and graduate within 7 years from the SAME university with ANY degree, that counts as success for degree completion. So, if you start in Engineering then switch and graduate with a degree in Music, that’s success. However, if you start in Engineering, then leave before graduation to complete a Veterinary degree at Guelph, that’s not a successful degree completion for their statistics. So if you look at those statistics, you need to be aware of what they actually mean (or don’t mean)!

Those statistics always bothered me, so I came up with an alternative measure of Engineering graduation rates, using the same CUDO data source. My hypothesis is that if we use the Engineering first year registration data for a certain year, and then compare that with the Engineering “degrees conferred” data four years later, then that will give us a rough estimate of “success”, specifically within Engineering programs as a whole.

So that’s what I did with downloads from the CUDO website, with the admission data from 2006 to 2012, and the degrees conferred data from 2010 to 2017. (I used a 5 year comparison for Waterloo, since our program takes 5 years to complete when you include the co-op work experience. All other universities can be completed in 4 years, so I used that comparison for the rest.) Based on this approach, we can summarize the results in the graph below, showing average degree completion rates. The “error bars” show plus and minus one standard deviation of the average “success rates” for each university (a measure of how variable the results are).

I call the graph “apparent success rates” because it still doesn’t use individual student data; it’s based on bulk numbers that can hide a lot of variables. Indeed, as we gaze at the graph we see some obviously puzzling results. The Engineering programs at Windsor and Lakehead are highly successful at graduating more engineering students then they admit!

Clearly there are some problems with this data analysis. For one, it doesn’t take into account the fact that some students at other universities can do an optional co-op or internship that will delay their graduation by a year. Secondly, it is based on first year registration data for each engineering program. This means that the students who transfer into Engineering from other programs within the University, or from other universities, are not counted. Likely this explains the ones where the graduation/success rates are over 100%, and may be a factor for those who have rates approaching 100%.

I have no deep insights into the other universities, but for Waterloo I know that in my experience we have extremely few transfers from other Universities, and very few from other programs at Waterloo. Therefore the average success/graduation rate at Waterloo of around 78% is likely a reasonable ballpark estimate for the fraction of new admits that graduate in 5 years.

This all just illustrates once again that defining “success” is complicated, and getting meaningful data to measure “success” is even harder. We just have to make do with what we can get, and recognize the limitations of the data.

Applying to University: Done Your Homework Yet?

For those applying to university for Fall 2020 admission, there is some homework you should have done, or at least started by now. Arguably, this is probably the most important homework that you have, even if no one has explicitly assigned it or told you to do it. Properly done, this homework will make success in university more likely. So what is this homework?

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Campus Tours

Anyone considering applying to a university should visit it, if at all possible. Many people visit campus during the summer vacation period. This is convenient for travel, but not always the best time to get an impression, because most campuses are very quiet during the summer. Waterloo is a bit of an exception, since we have classes going throughout the summer for returning co-op students in engineering and other programs.

The fall is probably a better time for a visit, when things are more active and you can get a good feel for the campus in actual operation. Take a day or two off high-school classes and visit a campus! If you’ve never been on a campus visit try the closest one to home, even if you don’t intend to apply there. It’s good to get a practice visit so you know what to expect when you go to other places of more direct interest.

Of course, in some cases it’s not practical or financially feasible to visit a campus that you’re interested in. In that case, using online videos is one way to get a bit of a tour. I think that most universities have some sort of video tour availability. Here’s a recent video made by one of our own class of 1998 civil engineering alumni, Fanny Dunagan. It’s interesting to see what captured her attention when returning for a visit.

Waterloo Engineering is Now 529 Eligible

I’m told by our Registrar that the University Waterloo is has recently been approved by the US Department of Education.  For US residents interested in our engineering programs, this means that they will be able to use their 529 plans for tuition and some other eligible expenses at Waterloo. (For Canadians readers, this is like our RESP investments, although I’m sure there are various differences.)

We were aware that this lack of ability to use 529 plans was a bit of a barrier to some prospective US students.  I’m glad we were eventually able to remove this barrier for the future. (Thanks to our administration, as I understand this takes significant effort and time to meet all the US government documentation requirements!)

The one continuing issue is that US students in engineering will still not be eligible for US federal financial aid, because their rules don’t permit online learning as part of a program.  Our co-op engineering programs employ a work-integrated experiential learning model, where students do some small online courses during their work terms in industry.  So for now, US federal financial aid is out for engineering, but 529 plans are OK.  With the income from our paid co-op work placements,  students might not qualify for much (if any) financial aid after first year anyway.

(P.S.  all of Waterloo’s other regular programs probably qualify for US federal financial aid purposes.  It’s just our co-op programs, like engineering, that don’t at this time.)

Selecting Your Offer

Offers to Ontario engineering programs will probably be wrapping up over the next two to three weeks (mid-May?).  Then people have until some date in early June to pick the one they want (see your offer or  OUAC for specific deadlines) and put down some sort of deposit.  It seems like most people apply to multiple universities and programs these days.  In the “old days” you could only apply to 3 in total, but I think the average now is around 5 or 6.  I’ve seen some applications in the high 20’s!

So assuming you have 2 or more offers to choose from, how do you decide?  Ultimately it’s going to be a very personal decision, but here are a few common factors to consider:

  1. Program:  do you really know what it’s about, and how well it fits your interests, skills and temperament?  Ignore your family and friends ideas about the “best” program for the future and jobs.  It’s your future.
  2. Location:  is quick and easy travel back home on weekends important to you or necessary for some reasons?  Or, are you fine with staying away for weeks and months and connecting by Skype or whatever?
  3. Costs:  some programs are expensive.  Some cities are expensive to live in.  How do the total costs add up for your budget?  Is there an internship or co-op program to help with the costs, and how much does it help?
  4. Facilities and Extracurriculars:  is there something that you really want or need to do, apart from the academic program?  Does the university have that opportunity available?  Are there clubs or sports opportunities that you are particularly interested in?
  5. Scholarships:  are these important for your budget and affordability?  Did you get a really big scholarship spread over 4 years?  If so, are there performance conditions, such as maintaining an 80% average?  Note that many students have difficulties maintaining these averages, so the scholarship may not  really be that reliable for future budgeting purposes.
  6. Prestige:  studies from the US generally show that going to a “prestigious” school has no particular influence on career (with the possible exception of politics).  Ignore “prestige” or rankings and go for the place and program that is the best fit for you and your interests.  An engaged and interested student will always do well wherever they are, versus a miserable student at a “prestigious” university or program.
  7. Other? Possibly there are some other factors that are more individual?  I can’t think of any more general ones at the moment, but suggestions in the comments are welcomed.

Toronto Engineering Program Enrollments

Waterloo Engineering has direct program admission, meaning that there is no general first year.  The co-op program you start on day 1 is where you stay, unless some other path opens up to you and you take it.  This also means that the number of students in each program is relatively stable from year 1 to 2 to 3, etc.  A few drop out for various reasons along the way, but nothing too drastic.

Toronto Engineering has an interesting “hybrid” admission process, where some students are admitted directly to a program (like us), and some are admitted to a more general “Track One” program for first year.  The Track One students move into other programs for 2nd year.  I thought it might be interesting to see how that admissions approach affects program enrollments in 2nd year, and luckily they publish their data in their academic calendar so it’s easy to figure out.  You just have to pick a calendar from a previous year, look at year 1 data, then pick the calendar for the following year and look at year 2 data to see the progression for a cohort of students.  For the example I compiled below, I picked the 2014 and 2015 calendars. Continue reading