Schools Where You Can Graduate on Time

Time is money and that is especially true when it comes to college.

College students usually don’t graduate in four years and that comes as a shock to most parents. Yesterday I devoted my college blog to explaining how families can find the four-year grad rates of any schools — and just as importantly — compare any institution’s grad rate with its peers. If you missed it, here it is:

The Shocking Truth About Graduation Rates

Today I want to share graduation statistics among general categories of schools. It should be no surprise that students at private institutions  graduate sooner than students at state universities, but there is variation within those two broad categories, according to figures 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 degrees. You can witness the same phenomenon with private colleges and universities.

4-year Grad Rates at Private Institutions

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

4-Year Grad Rates at Public Institutions

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

State Flagships & Private Universities

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 teenagers (mostly of them wealthy), which explains 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 enjoy 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.

The other type of colleges are considered “baccalaureate,” which as a group are less prestigious. These colleges offer more vocational majors such as communications, criminal justice, nursing, and parks & recreation.

I explained the difference between these two types of colleges in this post:

What Size is a Small College?

As you do research on grad rates for potential schools, I’d suggest checking out my favorite place to find four-year grad rates:

College Results Online

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and a workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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  1. This is really useful information. As a private college counselor, I was shocked myself when I saw the 4 year graduation rates for the University of Colorado at Boulder. It was barely 40%. When I asked an admissions rep why the number was so low, he replied, “I guess kids just like it here and don’t want to leave.” As a parent of five children myself, I want them to like a school, but after four years I expect them to graduate.

    1. Susie – I think schools always blame the lower rates on the students themselves and typically it’s a cop- out. Schools rarely seem to examine what they could be doing better to get kids out the door!

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  2. Hi Lynn,

    There is one thing mystifying about grad rates numbers on college results online – and that is when I picked three expensive and well known private schools why they had such different grad rates. Also, I always look at only the 4-yr grad rates. Here are the schools I was looking at:
    Lafayette college – 86%
    Lehigh University – 76%
    Carnegie Mellon – 67.5%

    It was shocking to find Carnegie was the lowest. Do you know the reason for this?


    1. Hi Vinny,

      I don’t know why Carnegie Mellon has the lowest grad rates of the three schools since all three have engineering. That’s a great question to ask the school and students who attend.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy