Thousands of Americans won’t be graduating from college in the next few weeks. Nearly half of full-time freshmen fail to earn a degree within six years, concludes an Education Trust report, “A Matter of Degrees.” Graduation rates are especially poor for low-income and minority students.
These young people leave our higher education system burdened with large student loans that must be repaid, but without the benefit of the wages that a college degree provides.
College enrollment has increased dramatically in a generation, with the biggest gains coming from female and low-income students. In the first eight years out of high school, 80 percent of on-time high school graduates enroll in a two-year or four-year college. However, many students don’t make it very far.
When looking at six-year graduation rates for four-year colleges and universities, the data shows that barely six out of ten (63%) first-time full-time degree-seeking college freshmen graduate within six years. While the overall graduation rates are low for all students, they are particularly low for minority and low-income students: only 46% of African American, 47% of Latino, and 54% of low-income first-time full-time freshmen are graduating within six years.
Six-year graduation rates range from less than 10 percent to almost 100 percent. Some colleges and universities do much better than others with comparable students. For example, University of California at Riverside, the least competitive campus in the elite UC system, “has an overall graduation rate of 66%, 15 percentage points better than the 51% median rate of its 33 peer institutions. . . . success at UC-Riverside is equally distributed across groups. The graduation rate is 65% for white students, 67% for Asian students, and 68% for Latino students.”
Other universities with exemplary or improving graduation rates are: Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, University of Northern Iowa, Binghamton University in New York, Miami University of Ohio, East Carolina University in North Carolina, University of Florida and Louisiana Tech. Other colleges and universities should study the success of Riverside and others to figure out what they’re doing right.