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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.

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 the majority of 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, much less charge them to attend class.

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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 exactly 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 65 schools with 500 or more full-time students in this category including 13 public institutions.

Now consider how different they are. The acceptances rates among the schools range from a low of 5% at Stanford to 97% at Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale. The lowest reported 75th% ACT Score was 23 at Mount Carmel College of Nursing while Stanford had the highest at 35. Twenty-four schools had 75th% scores below 30.

The lowest endowment per student was at The College of New Jersey with only $5,821 while the highest of $1,594,147 was at, you guessed it, Stanford. Not surprisingly, Stanford had the highest Instruction per Student at $114,640. The lowest, $5,204, was at Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale.

If you’re just looking at colleges with a 26 75th% ACT score, you’ll find 4-year graduation rates ranging from 14% to 71%. If you consider only colleges that accept 85% of students, the lowest graduation was 19%, the highest was 69%.

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-grads 4 yr Grad Rate  % Admitted  % Freshman Receiving Pell Grants (19-20) Avg Net Price 2019-20
Chapman University Pri CA 6,843 73 58 18 $44,327
Loyola Marymount University Pri CA 6,383 75 50 11 $48,758
Pitzer College Pri CA 802 75 17 12 $30,095
Stanford University Pri CA 5,752 74 5 18 $20,023
Westmont College Pri CA 1,224 71 70 24 $32,418
Quinnipiac University Pri CT 6,482 73 82 16 $41,815
University of Connecticut Pub CT 18,090 73 56 21 $22,233
American University Pri DC 7,453 74 39 15 $37,319
University of Delaware Pub DE 17,912 73 66 19 $19,747
Florida State University Pub FL 29,072 72 32 25 $12,815
Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale Pri FL 10,947 70 97 67 $31,371
Ringling College of Art and Design Pri FL 1,588 72 69 22 $53,496
Rollins College Pri FL 2,456 74 61 18 $33,216
University of Miami Pri FL 10,737 72 33 14 $31,726
Augustana College Pri IL 2,358 73 57 23 $24,233
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Pub IL 32,107 72 63 28 $13,517
Butler University Pri IN 4,347 73 76 13 $42,627
Hanover College Pri IN 1,018 71 69 35 $22,389
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Pri IN 1,952 75 77 14 $43,606
Taylor University Pri IN 1,724 72 70 22 $25,991
Wabash College Pri IN 868 72 63 24 $24,412
Transylvania University Pri KY 958 70 92 29 $26,054
Assumption University Pri MA 1,970 70 81 17 $30,232
Clark University Pri MA 2,185 70 47 23 $30,617
Emerson College Pri MA 3,626 75 41 14 $47,594
Endicott College Pri MA 2,840 75 70 15 $37,665
Stonehill College Pri MA 2,389 74 69 13 $35,508
Wheaton College Pri MA 1,660 72 77 22 $28,518
University of Maryland-College Park Pub MD 28,160 70 51 15 $17,643
Kalamazoo College Pri MI 1,426 72 74 25 $27,596
Gustavus Adolphus College Pri MN 2,220 75 71 27 $26,701
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Pub MN 28,989 71 70 18 $17,729
University of St Thomas Pri MN 6,126 70 87 23 $31,799
Saint Louis University Pri MO 6,847 73 56 21 $27,872
University of North Carolina School of the Arts Pub NC 890 71 36 27 $11,940
Creighton University Pri NE 4,330 71 64 12 $32,355
The College of New Jersey Pub NJ 6,898 75 51 18 $24,617
Binghamton University Pub NY 13,889 72 43 25 $19,061
Hobart William Smith Colleges Pri NY 1,808 72 62 22 $38,247
Ithaca College Pri NY 4,785 73 76 20 $35,904
Le Moyne College Pri NY 2,369 70 75 37 $23,937
Niagara University Pri NY 2,654 71 92 35 $19,172
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Pri NY 6,262 74 57 16 $40,661
Syracuse University Pri NY 13,832 71 69 13 $47,177
United States Merchant Marine Academy Pub NY 1,028 75 24 11 $4,574
University of Rochester Pri NY 6,100 75 35 18 $36,254
Miami University-Oxford Pub OH 16,079 71 92 12 $24,345
Mount Carmel College of Nursing Pri OH 562 73 81 51 $14,454
The College of Wooster Pri OH 1,921 70 65 22 $27,923
Juniata College Pri PA 1,264 70 67 30 $24,524
Lebanon Valley College Pri PA 1,621 71 78 23 $27,963
Messiah University Pri PA 2,424 75 78 25 $27,641
Saint Joseph’s University Pri PA 3,945 75 80 13 $35,780
Susquehanna University Pri PA 2,214 72 73 24 $26,597
University of Scranton Pri PA 3,499 74 79 20 $36,093
University of the Sciences Pri PA 1,382 71 71 25 $31,497
Ursinus College Pri PA 1,484 71 80 19 $31,400
Rhode Island School of Design Pri RI 1,736 70 27 16 $40,048
Salve Regina University Pri RI 2,084 73 75 17 $35,620
Furman University Pri SC 2,294 75 65 9 $37,761
Southern Methodist University Pri TX 6,616 73 53 9 $41,444
Texas Christian University Pri TX 9,448 70 48 11 $40,220
The University of Texas at Austin Pub TX 37,404 70 32 23 $16,892
Christopher Newport University Pub VA 4,653 70 76 13 $25,393
Saint Michael’s College Pri VT 1,492 72 88 16 $31,096

 

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Why YOU Should Care About College Graduation Rates

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