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.

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  1. It’s time to set the record shtrigat, education is ever evolving. School board members change, superintendents change, administrators, teachers and students change, graduation rates change, drop-out rates change, change is the nature of education. There are some people in education that are changed to the point where they don’t care anymore those are the people that need to be done with the education system. I don’t think there are many people that get into the field of education for reasons other than they love what they do, when you have changed to no longer love what you do you need to retire, change careers, or otherwise move on. For every person who has changed for the worse there are ten more recent graduates who are willing, ready, and able to replace them. Trends in education wax and wan, attitude, passion and heart are continuously regenerated with those recent graduates who want to fight the good fight. Our children represent education would we ever give up on or throw in the towel when it comes to our children? I think not. Our education system is flawed, but our education system is run by people which means that people are flawed too. I believe there is strength in numbers if all of us who want to continue to fight the good fight ban together we will change education for the better.