College Graduation Rates: Getting Out of College in Four Years

When students and families start shopping for schools, they often don’t ask this crucial question:

How likely is it that a teenager will graduate in four years?

At most colleges and universities the answer is not very likely.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2007-2008 Almanac, only 52.6% of students attending public institutions graduated in SIX years. That number jumps to 63.5% for undergraduates attending private schools.

There are a lot of reasons to explain the dismal numbers. At too many schools, students can’t get the classes they need to graduate in four years. At overcrowded schools, a student who changes her major might have to spend a year or more extra in classrooms because there is no flexibility in the system. Sometimes students drop out because they can’t afford to pay the tab or the courses are too challenging.

Whatever the reason, you obviously want to avoid paying for more than eight semesters of college.

One way to improve your chances of a speedier diploma is to look at the graduation track record of individual schools.  You can find four, five and six-year graduation rates for individual schools by visiting the Education Trust’s College Results Online.

What’s neat about this site is that you not only can look at the graduation rates of a prospective school, but the software automatically will compare that institution’s numbers with 15, 25  or even 50 of its closest peers.

As an example, I checked the University of Wisconsin’s numbers. According to the software, Wisconsin’s six-year graduation rate is 76.7%, which is quite respectable. But Wisconsin’s four-year graduation rate is a disappointing 41%.

Luckily there is no need to look at these graduation numbers in a void. When I used the software to compare Wisconsin with its peers, I saw some schools with far better rates and some with worse. For instance, the four-year graduation rate at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is vastly superior. At Michigan, 69.7% of students leave with a diploma after four years and 86.5% reach that milestone after six years.

On the low end of this peer group, Texas A&M; the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; Ohio State University and Brigham Young University all possess four-year graduation rates of 35% or lower.

One of the best ways to cut the cost of college is to make sure the experience only lasts four years!

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