Good Luck Graduating in Four Years!

Here is a scary college statistic:

According to the  federal government, only 36.4% of full-time students graduate from college in four years. Here is a closer look at the latest available stats:

Graduating in Four Years

Public universities can often be less expensive than private institutions for students who can graduate on time, but most students attending public institutions stay longer than the traditional eight semesters. Students attending non-profit, private schools enjoy a greater chances of graduating on time.

  • 51.0% Private, non-profit colleges and universities
  • 29.9%  Public colleges and universities
  • 14.2% Private, for-profit institutions

Graduating in Five Years

The overall five-year grad rate for full-time college students is 52.3%.

  • 61.3% Private, non-profit colleges and universities
  • 49.1% Public colleges and universities
  • 17.2% Private, for-profit institutions

Graduating in Six Years

Fifty seven percent of full-time undergraduates earn a bachelor’s degree within six years.

  • 64.4% Private, non-profit institutions
  • 55.0% Public institutions
  • 22.0% Private, for-profit institutions

Graduating Within Six Years

When you slice and dice the numbers, the grad rates for some groups is far lower:

  • 67%  Asians/Pacific Islanders
  • 60% Whites
  • 49% Hispanics
  • 42% African-Americans
  • 40% Native American Indians

Grad Rates for Men vs. Women

Women fare better than men in earning their degree within four, five and six years. Despite this, young male college graduates earn more than women.

Four-year grad rates

  • 40.5% women
  • 31.3% men

Five-year grad rates

  • 55.2% women
  • 48.7% men

Six-year grad rates

  • 66.4% women
  • 58.5% men

Why Such Low Grad Rates?

There are many reasons why grad rates are so low. Out here is California, for instance, many students at state universities often can’t get their classes. An inability to obtain classes leads to more students dropping out or switching to part-time status which leads to lower grad rates.

Here’s another reason:  some marginal students should never have aimed for a four-year college. Eighty percent of students in the bottom quarter of their high school classes never earn a bachelor’s or associate’s degree.  Many drop out of college with student debt which can be a financial disaster. I wrote about this phenomenon yesterday on my CBS MoneyWatch college blog.

Check Rates Before Finalizing the College List

What you might not appreciate about grad rates is that schools of a similar caliber can have wildly different grad rates. I’ll share more on this topic in my next post.

Let's Connect

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  1. Thanks for the data Lynn. Two comments. First, from my years of experience as a youth leader (and father), my observation is that as a whole, teenage “men” take longer to mature into adulthood and thus are not as prepared as young women to handle the responsibility and independence that comes with the college experience. Assuming they do “get it” after a year or two, they need extra time to graduate to make up for their earlier indiscretions. Second, as a former Director of Human Resources for many years, I can tell you that discrimination in compensation based on gender is alive and well in corporate America. I spent a great deal of time attempting to educate primarily male mangers on the “equal pay for equal work” principle but progress was always slow.

    1. Thanks Jack for your explanation about why boys lag girls in college. The discrimination that you mention is depressing, but not surprising.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  2. Lynn – Thanks for bringing these issues to light. Really surprising and disturbing, especially given the amount of money most students are spending to attend a college or university. While students certainly take some responsibility for this, it’s also true that some schools need to do a better job helping students navigate the system successfully. It doesn’t do any good for the student – or the economy as a whole – to have students not completing their educations and then defaulting on debts because they aren’t earning enough to pay back their loans.

    1. Thanks for your comment Gerri. I think one reason why schools can get away with lousy grad rates is because families never ask about them. Also, schools tend to blame bad grad rates on students when it’s the institutions that are the prime culprits.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  3. Depressing on so many levels.
    The California budget situation is really doing a disservice to young people, and the state as a whole.
    I have part-time employees who are going to school part-time, so I get to see and hear about our local community colleges and CSU first hand.
    Based on this and other supporting data, my older daughter attends a private, out-of-state college. My younger one will be applying in the fall.

    1. Claire — As a California resident I agree that the situation at state universities here is depressing. Neither of my children applied to any California state universities because of the deterioration of the academics and financial support at all these schools.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    1. Dave — Sure looks like it. Maybe men aren’t as motivated because they know they will be earning higher salaries than their more industrious women classmates.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      1. Or maybe they are just lazy! I certainly remember how motivated my college friends were to stay in school. Like Rodney Dangerfield once said in “Back to School”, “Stay in college, it’s a jungle out there.”