College grad rates vary widely

Some colleges graduate most students within six years; some graduate only a few. Students should know their odds, write Frederick Hess, Andrew Kelly an dMark Schneider in Forbes. Their American Enterprise Institute report on graduation rates looked at colleges enrolling first-time, full-time students with similar qualifications.

. . . the “competitive” category . . .  contains institutions that take students with average scores of 500 to 572 on each of the SAT’s three sections (math, critical reading and writing) and GPAs that range from C to B-; they tend to accept 75% to 85% of their applicants. When we ranked the 660 schools in this category by their graduation rate, the average for the bottom 10 places was shockingly low–only 20%. In contrast, the average graduation rate for the top 10 schools in the category was about 75%. The schools ranked near the bottom of the competitive category include Chicago State University in Illinois (16% six-year graduation rate), Coppin State University in Maryland (19%), and Long Island University-Brooklyn Campus in New York (21%).Schools in the top include Merrimack College in Massachusetts (78%), Westminster College in Pennsylvania (76%) and Moravian College in Ohio (75%).

Overall, about half of high school graduates who go to four-year colleges earn a degree in six years.

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  1. Prospective students should also pay attention to graduation rates for various majors.

  2. I agree with Mike. The particular engineering discipline I went into was far more difficult than I knew before I started. We had 201 students in the freshman “101” class. Four years later, 16 of us graduated. Had I known ahead of time that only one in eight of us would make it, I’m not sure I would have chosen to defy the odds.

    (It’s not that the seven out of eight flunked out. Most of them just changed majors and went on their way to graduation; taking a bit longer to make up for the detour.)

  3. Cardinal Fang says: is informative. It allows the user to compare graduation rates, and various other factors, for different colleges.

    I suspect (though it’s not obvious from a quick eyeballing of the CollegeResults data) that the low-graduation colleges enroll very different students than the high-graduation colleges. I think rather than condemning the low-graduation colleges for whatever practices they engage in that fail to retain students, it would first be useful to look at their student bodies.

    I notice that the colleges with higher graduation rates are more likely to be religious, and also more well-known nationally. They’re disproportionately private schools. (Historically-black Spelman is graduating 79%! Good for them.) The ones on the bottom of the list are more likely to be public schools or commuter schools.

  4. Cardinal Fang says:

    In looking at colleges with average SAT scores from 1000-1150, student age jumps to the eye. The colleges with the best graduation rates have almost no students older than 25. The colleges with the worst graduation rates tend to have substantial populations of older students. At Chicago State, over 50% of students are older than 25. At Westminster, that number is 3%.

  5. I think Cardinal Fang makes a good point. I’m thinking about fairly recent posts about the University of the District of Columbia (restructured for coming year; see Washington Post), which has had open admissions and where most students are products of DC Public Schools. I wouldn’t be surprised if Coppin State drew a big chunk of students from the Baltimore Public Schools. As he said; look at inputs.

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    Bucolic Moravian is filled with white suburban kids who didn’t do very well on their SATs. In constrast, at urban Chicago State, over three quarters of the student body get Pell Grants (in other words, they come from low-income families) and a third end up transferring out. Those two schools are in no way peer institutions. Very few high school seniors are sitting around on April 15, trying to decide between a school like Moravian and a school like Chicago State.

  7. Mike Skiles says:

    I was in a 5 year program and it took me 6 years and 1 quarter to graduate. I was a science ed major and chose to take no more than 2 difficult science/math classes at once so I would know my subject matter. That was a choice I made instead of rushing through and going summers. It was my money, I get to choose how to spend it.

  8. Cardinal Fang says:

    Good for you, Mike. But your experience doesn’t seem to be the norm. For one thing, most undergraduates are in a four year program, not a five year program. But also, if you look at the four year and five year graduation for colleges, which is available at, you’ll quickly see that the majority of people who are going to graduate in the six-year period graduate after four years. Then the five-year and six-year graduates trickle in. The numbers aren’t going to go up much if you look at the seven-year graduation rate.

  9. These are very interesting results, but as CF points out, they have much more to do with the student body than with the particular college in question. I don’t believe that the 80% of African-Americans who failed to graduate from Indiana University-Purdue Univerity-Indianapolis would have been more likely to graduate if they had attended the University of Chicago, for example.

    I did notice that Vanderbilt graduated slightly more A-As than Whites, though – (90.2 to 89.5, IIRC).

  10. Tom in GA says:

    I’d be cautious about relying too heavily on graduation rates for smaller, rural private colleges. While I’m sure many of them stick to their standards and insist on performance and learning, I’ve also heard the scuttlebutt that this isn’t the case… there’s something to be said for knowing where your bread is buttered.

  11. Rob, congratulations on graduating, but 16/201 is slightly less than 1/12th (it’s actually closer to 1/13, and very close to 2/25).

  12. Rob, engineering requires above-average analytical abilities and far above average willingness to work hard. Your degree gains value by the proportion of people that couldn’t hack it, although a college that cared more for the welfare of it’s students than for collecting tuition would weed out those with no chance at all before they started. My experience as a EE major at Oklahoma State was that half of the first semester engineering majors (of all sorts) were gone from the second semester courses, maybe another third left engineering during or after the second semester, but of those that survived the first year nearly all graduated. And dropouts from engineering weren’t college dropouts, they were well qualified for many easier majors.

    The much bigger problem is the unselective schools that take money from students that hardly had a chance to complete any college major. That is, they received high school diplomas, but lacked 8th grade skills. These poor kids were defrauded by the public schools, and were defrauded again by the college.