Why YOU Should Care About College Graduation Rates
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Why YOU Should Care About College Graduation Rates

College hat on money showing importance of college graduation ratesWhen high school students start looking for colleges to apply to, they rarely consider college graduation rates. Even with the sky-rocketing costs of college, most families still don’t consider graduation rates. They may notice it when a school advertises its four-year graduation guarantee but I suspect most just dismiss it as not applying to “their” situation.

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But college graduation rates are misleading!

Then you have voices in the media from experts who claim that graduation rates are misleading. The reasons include:

  • They don’t actually measure the value of the degree.
  • They are more of a reflection of a college’s inputs rather than any affect the college may have on the student.
  • They don’t reflect the fact that students are no longer “traditional” 18 year-olds attending a residential college full-time.
  • They don’t track transfers in or out of a college.
  • They don’t account for the variation of the quality and preparation of the students at different colleges and universities.

I’m sure there are reasons I’ve missed and most of them are legitimate concerns in terms of evaluating a college’s ability to graduate students.

It is kind of funny though. I spent my graduate school years looking at high school graduation rates and let me tell you, having poor, academically unprepared students with significant outside distractions didn’t cut the high schools any slack. And most high schools don’t get to pick their students.

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Do you have a traditional college student?

So let me tell you why YOU should care.

First, the YOU I’m talking about is the family that is preparing to send their 18 year-old high school graduate to a full-time college expecting to only pay for four-years of attendance to avoid soul-crushing debt.

That YOU is exactly the YOU that is measured by current college graduation rates.

Unfortunately, the graduation rates commonly reported are the six-year rate for four-year degrees but it’s a start.

Who is responsible for transfers?

For YOU, the argument that the rate doesn’t track transfers is irrelevant. Why? Because transferring, for whatever reason, tends to be an expensive business in that not all courses transfer or that transfer students don’t generally qualify for as much financial aid. (This is not referring to starting off at a community college and transferring to a 4-year institution.)

Of course, there are always mismatches and students will need to transfer through no fault of the college. But if there is such a high number of transfers that it’s affecting the graduation rate, then the college has to take some responsibility since it admitted them.

A colleague of my husband was adjunct faculty at a private college with a low graduation rate. She said that the school explained the low rate was the result of so many of their students being first generation college students and that most who left the college eventually graduated from the local public university.

I’m pretty sure that explanation doesn’t show up in its admissions presentations.

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It isn’t as if this school was providing tremendous financial aid for the students. These students were encouraged to take out large loans for a quality, private college education that they never completed but would still have to pay for. The reality is that the school accepted them-it can’t charge them $50,000 a year and then wash its hands of the matter.

Well, actually, they can because that’s what is happening.

Make Meaningful Comparisons

The fact is that colleges with similarly situated students will have very dissimilar graduation rates. That’s not just “interesting ” information. That’s information that represents the chances of graduating on-time with a minimum amount of debt. It adds up to real dollars.

It’s one of the reasons why I use the five-year graduation rate for public colleges and the four-year rate for private ones. I figure you can attend an extra year at a public college and still pay less than attending four-years at a private school. The cost difference is worth the possibility of a fifth year because of difficulties in getting required classes for graduation. Of course, that also means delaying earning income for a year which should be considered as well.

College Graduation Rates Example

Sometimes it’s easier to demonstrate this point by working backwards from the graduation rates. The table below lists colleges with a 4 year graduation rate between 70% and 75%. According to IPEDS, there are 58 schools with 500 or more full-time graduates in this category including 10 public institutions.

Now consider how different they are. The acceptances rates among the schools range from a low of 4% at Stanford to 86% at Hope College The lowest reported 75th% ACT Score was 25 at Simpson College while Stanford had the highest at 35. Nineteen schools had scores below 30.

The lowest endowment per student was at The College of New Jersey with only $5,709 while the highest was $1,539,051 was at, you guessed it, Stanford. Not surprisingly, Stanford had the highest Instruction per Student at $113,338. The lowest, $8,087, was at Rockhurst University.

If you’re just looking at colleges with a 26 75th% ACT score, you’ll find 4 year graduation rates ranging from 14% to 67%. If you consider only colleges that accept 85% of applications, the lowest graduation was 12%, the highest was 82%.

The point is that graduation rates can represent real differences between colleges and families should benchmark them just as they would any other data point in their college search.

Ultimately, YOU are planning on graduating from a four-year college. If most of the students don’t, shouldn’t you know why?

Learn More

All of the information in this table is part of the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet.

Colleges with 4-Year Graduation Rates between 70% and 75%

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Name Type State Full-time Under-graduate 4 yr Grad-uation Rate  % Admitted  % Freshman Receiving Pell Grants
(18-19) 
Avg Net Price 2018-2019
Chapman University Private CA 7,046 72 56 17 $43,767
Loyola Marymount University Private CA 6,548 73 44 13 $47,292
Stanford University Private CA 6,996 73 4 18 $16,779
Westmont College Private CA 1,312 75 65 17 $32,663
University of Connecticut Public CT 18,229 73 49 20 $20,042
University of Delaware Public DE 18,378 72 71 16 $17,539
American University Private DC 8,207 75 36 15 $40,469
University of Miami Private FL 10,701 73 27 13 $33,102
Agnes Scott College Private GA 990 70 65 43 $21,893
Illinois Wesleyan University Private IL 1,616 72 61 30 $28,912
Lake Forest College Private IL 1,517 71 55 36 $26,148
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Public IL 32,854 70 59 25 $14,660
Butler University Private IN 4,509 73 73 14 $39,923
Saint Mary’s College Private IN 1,421 72 81 28 $26,906
Wabash College Private IN 866 71 64 35 $21,285
Dordt University Private IA 1,319 70 75 27 $26,570
Drake University Private IA 2,830 73 68 21 $30,265
Simpson College Private IA 1,161 70 80 50 $20,145
Clark University Private MA 2,281 73 53 20 $30,158
Endicott College Private MA 2,809 70 69 13 $36,498
Simmons University Private MA 1,607 72 73 29 $30,841
Springfield College Private MA 2,158 70 68 25 $29,706
University of Massachusetts-Amherst Public MA 22,491 74 64 20 $22,927
Hillsdale College Private MI 1,431 74 48 0 $23,230
Hope College Private MI 2,917 72 86 20 $29,248
College of Saint Benedict Private MN 1,731 75 80 24 $28,177
Gustavus Adolphus College Private MN 2,212 73 69 33 $21,707
Saint Johns University Private MN 1,604 70 78 23 $27,126
Rockhurst University Private MO 1,454 70 64 25 $22,688
Saint Louis University Private MO 6,691 71 58 19 $31,098
Saint Anselm College Private NH 2,014 74 75 12 $34,164
The College of New Jersey Public NJ 6,981 75 49 19 $23,945
Binghamton University Public NY 13,845 72 41 28 $17,424
Hobart William Smith Colleges Private NY 2,045 73 66 21 $37,761
Ithaca College Private NY 5,739 70 73 21 $34,942
Siena College Private NY 3,081 75 81 26 $27,997
SUNY College at Geneseo Public NY 5,153 72 65 31 $17,341
Syracuse University Private NY 14,727 72 44 15 $43,111
United States Merchant Marine Academy Public NY 1,007 75 25 6 $4,617
Wagner College Private NY 1,677 70 71 20 $32,294
Yeshiva University Private NY 2,643 71 55 16 $33,953
University of North Carolina School of the Arts Public NC 901 72 29 23 $12,579
Miami University-Oxford Public OH 16,682 71 80 13 $22,989
The College of Wooster Private OH 1,934 75 55 23 $28,209
Lewis & Clark College Private OR 1,904 70 72 22 $36,026
University of Portland Private OR 3,743 72 77 19 $36,051
Duquesne University Private PA 5,732 71 74 20 $30,732
Lebanon Valley College Private PA 1,638 73 80 29 $27,459
Messiah College Private PA 2,545 75 76 23 $28,867
Saint Joseph’s University Private PA 4,222 75 75 15 $35,242
Rhode Island School of Design Private RI 2,009 72 26 18 $39,791
Salve Regina University Private RI 2,091 73 74 23 $36,646
Rhodes College Private TN 1,945 73 45 13 $30,632
The University of the South Private TN 1,671 72 67 14 $34,971
Southern Methodist University Private TX 6,519 72 47 9 $40,404
Texas Christian University Private TX 9,219 71 47 12 $37,509
Gonzaga University Private WA 5,123 75 62 15 $36,578
Saint Norbert College Private WI 1,962 70 80 24 $26,540

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Why YOU Should Care About College Graduation Rates

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