Graduation Rates

Why YOU Should Care About College Graduation Rates

When 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 college 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 an increasing number 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.

Click HERE for list of colleges with at least a 50% graduation rate

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.

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.

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 schools with similarly situated students will have very dissimilar college 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 college graduation rates. The table below lists colleges with a 4-year graduation rate between 70% and 75%. According to IPEDS, there are 63 schools with 500 or more full-time students in this category including 16 public institutions.

Now consider how different they are. The acceptance rates among the schools range from a low of 19% at Rhode Island School of Design to 92% at Transylvania University. The lowest reported 75th% ACT Score was 26 at Concordia College at Moorhead (39% of freshman reporting) while Oberlin College had the highest at 34 (22% of freshman reporting). Among the 35 schools posting their Common Data Set information, the average GPA ranged from 3.27 to 4.34.

The lowest endowment per student was at Binghamton University with only $7,995 while the highest of $436,375 was at Oberlin College. Surprisingly, the University of Washington had the highest Instruction per Student at $32,369. The lowest, $8,459, was at Saint Michael’s College.

If you’re just looking at colleges that spend between $13,000 and $13,999 on Instruction per Student, you’ll find 4-year graduation rates ranging from 15% to 85%. If you consider only colleges that accept 85% of students, the lowest graduation rate was 17%, the highest was 75%.

The point is that college 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%

Name Type ST Full-time Under-grads 4 yr Grad Rate Admit % % Freshman Receiving Pell Grants (20-21) Average Net Price 2020-2021
Hendrix College Pri AR 1,101 70 68 28 $9,968
Chapman University Pri CA 7,156 72 60 20 $40,451
Loyola Marymount University Pri CA 6,945 72 46 10 $40,180
Pepperdine University Pri CA 3,427 72 53 21 $40,945
University of California-San Diego Pub CA 32,327 73 34 24 $15,632
University of California-Santa Barbara Pub CA 22,458 70 29 28 $17,333
University of Connecticut Pub CT 17,951 72 56 22 $22,168
University of Delaware Pub DE 18,006 73 72 17 $19,122
American University Pri DC 8,124 73 64 18 $28,622
Florida State University Pub FL 30,153 70 37 25 $12,684
Ringling College of Art and Design Pri FL 1,635 71 69 21 $51,318
University of Florida Pub FL 31,337 72 30 22 $9,809
University of Miami Pri FL 11,535 73 28 14 $34,492
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Pub IL 33,481 71 60 26 $14,272
Butler University Pri IN 4,352 75 81 15 $38,643
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Pri IN 2,058 75 77 12 $39,294
Taylor University Pri IN 1,670 73 73 16 $26,879
Dordt University Pri IA 1,403 71 73 25 $26,662
Drake University Pri IA 2,776 70 69 20 $29,507
Transylvania University Pri KY 960 70 92 29 $26,271
University of Maryland-College Park Pub MD 28,425 72 52 15 $17,146
Washington College Pri MD 1,015 74 70 26 $22,088
Clark University Pri MA 2,284 75 48 20 $31,565
Hope College Pri MI 2,966 73 92 17 $28,688
College of Saint Benedict Pri MN 1,533 74 92 24 $28,269
Concordia College at Moorhead Pri MN 1,837 71 72 23 $23,890
Gustavus Adolphus College Pri MN 2,224 74 73 25 $27,657
Saint Johns University Pri MN 1,515 73 89 23 $27,750
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Pub MN 29,074 72 73 18 $17,468
Saint Louis University Pri MO 6,647 73 70 19 $30,096
Creighton University Pri NE 4,366 70 78 13 $31,040
Saint Anselm College Pri NH 1,940 73 78 11 $34,450
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Pub NH 11,232 70 87 21 $22,392
Binghamton University Pub NY 13,966 75 44 26 $17,881
Ithaca College Pri NY 4,719 72 78 23 $35,327
Marist College Pri NY 4,880 75 60 14 $37,868
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Pri NY 5,564 70 53 20 $40,070
Siena College Pri NY 3,394 72 83 27 $32,810
Syracuse University Pri NY 14,167 72 59 18 $43,545
United States Merchant Marine Academy Pub NY 1,006 74 25 9 $4,422
Yeshiva University Pri NY 2,536 71 63 11 $36,807
John Carroll University Pri OH 2,591 70 88 19 $28,661
Miami University-Oxford Pub OH 16,615 73 89 14 $24,616
Oberlin College Pri OH 2,905 72 34 8 $44,689
The College of Wooster Pri OH 1,947 70 61 23 $24,934
University of Portland Pri OR 3,483 74 81 18 $35,535
Elizabethtown College Pri PA 1,537 70 79 17 $26,534
Juniata College Pri PA 1,222 73 74 24 $26,493
Messiah University Pri PA 2,304 73 77 21 $23,895
University of the Sciences Pri PA 1,287 71 61 29 $29,948
Washington & Jefferson College Pri PA 1,138 71 84 31 $27,101
Rhode Island School of Design Pri RI 2,044 70 19 15 $38,234
Salve Regina University Pri RI 2,069 71 73 17 $36,708
Wofford College Pri SC 1,745 75 52 18 $30,608
The University of the South Pri TN 1,724 75 60 19 $29,626
Southern Methodist University Pri TX 6,728 75 53 9 $41,986
Texas Christian University Pri TX 10,020 71 54 14 $42,574
The University of Texas at Austin Pub TX 38,250 70 29 29 $16,589
Saint Michael’s College Pri VT 1,395 75 86 22 $28,979
University of Vermont Pub VT 10,842 70 64 15 $19,873
Gonzaga University Pri WA 4,909 75 76 16 $35,529
University of Washington-Seattle Campus Pub WA 29,626 71 53 18 $8,701
Saint Norbert College Pri WI 1,905 75 85 17 $27,107


Michelle Kretzschmar

Published by
Michelle Kretzschmar

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