College Graduation Rates: Beware of Wildly Different Grad Rates

Here’s a grim college graduation rate statistic:  Fewer than 60% of college students graduate in six years.

Of course, noncompetitive schools, which accept nearly all comers, drag down the national graduation rates. For instance, only 12.1% of students at Mountain State University in Beckley, WV, which accepts all its applicants, graduate in six years. In contrast, 96.8% of Harvard students have earned their diploma by then.

Big deal, you’re probably thinking. The type of students that each of those institutions attract are dramatically different.  What I find fascinating, however, is how much variation exists in graduation rates between colleges and universities with similar admission standards and similar student bodies.

Here are two graduation rate examples:

Among the most competitive schools, Stanford University has a six-year grad rate of 95% versus 78% for George Washington University. Among highly competitive schools, Providence College has a six-year grad rate of 87% versus 57% for Bennington College.

This wide gulf in six-year college graduation rates among higher-ed peers is the subject of a  study by the American Enterprise Institute that’s entitled, Diplomas and Dropouts, Which Colleges Actually Graduate Their Students (and Which Don’t).

The AEI researchers compared college graduation rates among colleges that were divided into these six categories:

•    Noncompetitive colleges
•    Less competitive colleges
•    Competitive colleges
•    Very competitive colleges
•    Highly competitive colleges
•    Most competitive colleges

Here’s an observation from the authors of the AEI study:

When two colleges that enroll similar students have a graduation rate gap of twenty or thirty percentage points or more, it is fair to ask why. More important, students parents, guidance counselors and taxpayers (who foot the bill for many student costs) all deserve to know which schools graduate most of their students and which graduate only a few.)

Graduation Rate Bottom Line:

Always research the graduation rates of any colleges you are investigating. The best place to find four, five and six-year rates is at

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for Follow her on Twitter.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Live
  • MySpace
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • email
  • RSS
  • Twitter

3 Responses to “College Graduation Rates: Beware of Wildly Different Grad Rates”

  1. […] College graduation rates are all over the board. It’s not surprising that Georgetown’s four-year graduation rate (90.4%) is higher than Kennesaw State University (7.7%), but what’s important is comparing schools in the same peer group. Among highly selective universities, for example, Georgetown’s four-year grad rate is clearly superior to George Washington University’s four-year grad rate of 72.6%. Both of these schools, by the way, cost more than $50,000 a year. […]

  2. […] argue that the report would have been more accurate if the researchers had used a five-year graduation rate since sadly most students don’t graduate in four […]

  3. […] infuriating that the periodic federal reports on graduation outcomes don’t include four-year graduation rates. I have never met any parents who want their children to linger in college for five or six years or […]

Leave a Reply

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree