Colleges and Universities With the Best Graduation Rates

In my last post, I shared how you can pinpoint the four-year graduation rates of any college or university. If you missed it, here is the post:

Will Your Child Graduate From College in 4 Years?

As I mentioned yesterday, it should be no surprise that students at private non-profit schools typically graduate sooner than students at state universities, but there is variation within those two broad categories, according to statistics that I pulled from a study from the ACT Research & Policy Issues.
State universities that maintain doctoral programs graduate more students in the traditional four years than schools where the top degree is a master’s degree.  State schools that produce only bachelor’s degrees fare better with their grad stats than state schools that produce master’s degree. You can witness the same phenomenon with private colleges and universities.

4-year Graduation Rates at Private Colleges and Universities

  • Bachelor-PhD programs               52.9%
  • Bachelor’s Degree Only                 48.4%
  • Bachelor’s/Master’s Degrees       44.9%

4-Year Grad Rates at Public Colleges and Universities

  • Bachelors-PhD Programs        29.4%
  • Bachelor’s Degree Only           27.6%
  • Bachelors/Master’s Degree    23.1%

State Flagships

Why would research-intense schools enjoy the highest grad rates?
Among public institutions, schools that fall into this category include the state flagships and they tend to accept students who arrive at college with better high school grades and test scores. I think a much bigger reason, however, is that flagships tend to enjoy better state funding than the public regional universities that offer master’s degree programs.
As for the higher success of private research universities, frankly there aren’t that many schools that fit into this list and a healthy percentage of those that do tend to be elite such as the Ivy League schools, as well as institutions like Stanford, University of Chicago, MIT and Georgetown. These elite schools are extremely wealthy and only accept exceptional students, many of which are wealthy themselves, which explains a lot about why these students can graduate on time. You could lock these kids in a dark closet and they’d still find a way to graduate on time.

Liberal Arts Colleges

Why would schools that only provide bachelor’s degrees have better grad rates than schools that also offer master’s degrees? One reason is that a fair number of schools in this category are liberal arts colleges.  Like private research universities, the percentage of liberal arts colleges in the higher-ed universe is tiny. Many of these liberal arts colleges are selective and enjoy more financial resources than schools that offer master’s degree.

Bottom Line:

No matter what type of colleges or universities you are interested in, check their graduation rates!
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller and a workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. Is it true that if you take the full amount of units offered every semester, you have the chance of graduating with your bachelors from a state university within four years?

    1. Shaheena,
      It’s true that if you take the full number of units you have a better chance of graduating. At some schools, and certainly nearly all California State universities, you can’t get your classes so it’s nearly impossible to graduate in four years. The CA Legislature is expected to pass a bill that would let students on class wait lists to take online classes from outside vendors. This will be hugely welcome news!
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy