Posted in College Admission

College Graduation Rates (part 2 of 2)

Yesterday I promised you we’d look at the good, bad, and the ugly numbers of specific colleges and their graduation rates.  If you didn’t read part 1, you can do that here.

Why should you care about graduation rates?  Because your teen is among those that are part of that statistic.  College drop outs aren’t “other people’s children” they are our children.  They are our neighbors, our friends- they are good people.  In fact, 64% of all the adults walking around have some college credit, but only 34% have finished a bachelor’s degree.    So, I encourage you to take those statistics as a challenge.  Know that the mountain in front of your teen is very high and very treacherous.  In addition to earning college credit in high school, filtering out colleges that don’t maximize the credit your teen earned, there is a third factor:  the college’s own graduation rate.

Consider 2 colleges.  Both are equal in every way except for one thing:

College A has an 80% graduation rate  (80% of those that start a degree there will finish)

College B has a 0% graduation rate (0% of those that start a degree there will finish)

Which college would you choose?  Assuming you checked their graduation rate before choosing (!) you’d be smart to choose College A.  Students who choose College B are fighting a losing battle.  The average parent never looks up the graduation rate of their teen’s target colleges.  Oops.

All things being equal, colleges with stronger graduation rates have good infrastructure that supports student’s progress.

If a college is graduating most of their students, they’re doing it right.  

A strong graduation rate indicates that the college has a good system in place for moving students from the starting line through the goal post.

  • They have enough academic advisors.
  • The advisors are helping the teens make good course selection decisions.
  • They help the students stay on track and focused.
  • They have a supportive culture that says “you can make it to the finish line.”

Why does a college have a very low graduation rate?  That is an enormous problem for which entire higher education conferences are built to discuss…and it is an important question…but that’s a problem for someone else to tackle.  Until then, your teen has to choose a college.

Ok, I’m sure there is at least one of you who wants to dive into that question- here ya go.

What is the minimum acceptable graduation rate?  The national average is 59% in 6 years, so if it’s better than that, you’re on the side of winning.  I don’t have a hard number you’ll love. For my family, I’m comfortable with anything over 50% in general, but it also depends on how much we’ve done ahead of time.  For instance, is my teen going in with no prior college credit and expects to spend 4-6 years wandering through a degree process?  If so, I don’t trust the college with a 50% graduation rate to oversee his education.  On the other hand, if my son is starting college with 75% of his credits already earned and doing the rest online where I can help assure his success, I’m confident that we could get him through a college with a 15% graduation rate (the rate of the college he is currently attending).  So, it’s relative.  But, you should still ask- and take it into consideration.

Where can I find a college’s graduation rate?

First stop:  College Completion is HUGE listing that will help most of you find most colleges.  Start with that site!  You can search by name, by state, by 2 or 4-year, and more. Keep in mind graduation rates are calculated using 6 years (not 4).

Besides simple searching (which anyone can do) the site has TONS of tools and data that allow you a more sophisticated opportunity to dig deeper.  The site is directed by a name that will be familiar to many of you:  Jeffrey J. Selingo.  Remember him?  That’s right! He wrote There is Life After College, one of my favorite books of 2016.

Second stop:  Your target college’s website or guidebook.

Best Graduation Rates at Flagship Public Universities

1.  University of Virginia

2.  University of California at Berkeley

3.  The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

4. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

5.  The University of Florida

Best Graduation Rates of Community Colleges
(with more than 500 freshmen)

1. Lake Area Technical Institute (SD)

2. Foothill College (CA)

3. De Anza College (CA)

4. Alexandria Technical and Community College (MN)

5. Rend Lake College (IL)

More fun with data

The #1 state with the highest graduation rate among public 4-year colleges?  Delaware!  59% will graduate in 4 years, and 73% will graduate in 6.

The #1 state with the highest graduation rate among community colleges?  South Dakota.  In SD, over 44% will graduate on time, while 51% will graduate in 150% of the time.  North Dakota is nearly as good, and to demonstrate how significantly better they are than the rest of the country,  states #3-50 have rates at or below 20%.

The lowest community college graduation rate?  Vermont.  A dismal 2% of students will graduate on time.

If you’re attending a private for profit college, you best chance of success is to attend a college in… Florida.  Full Sail University boasts a 4-year graduation completion rate of over 80% and Southwest Florida College maintains a 4-year graduation rate of 100%.

For those who wonder about The Big 3

The data for Thomas Edison State University, Charter Oak State College, and Excelsior College don’t appear on the above website or my second favorite resource website College Score Card.  I did find 2011 data on Charter Oak’s website, but otherwise, I’m coming up dry.  Charter Oak State College:  60% 



The Takeaway

It’s all about finishing.  Really.  All the planning, all the college credit earning, the goal is to leave the process with a credential in hand.

While there really isn’t any way to guarantee completion, I would suggest that you have a lot of tools to get your teen a good portion of the way there.   By earning college credit at home, choosing a college to accept that credit, and choosing a college with a good graduation rate, you are doing an exceptional job directing your teen’s journey!

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