Low acceptance rates may serve as a mark of prestige among elite colleges, but high graduation rates demonstrate a school's commitment to students, reflecting a high level of institutional support and overall effectiveness. High college graduation rates can also show applicants how many students move through a school or program at an average rate, completing their studies in a typical timeframe.
Colleges often publish their graduation and retention rates. While the graduation rate indicates the percentage of students who complete a degree, retention rate indicates the percent of freshman students who continue on to sophomore year. A high retention rate typically translates to a high graduation rate, indicating that a school supports students throughout the course of their education.
Most traditional graduation figures indicate how many students complete a four-year program within six years of enrolling. However, colleges increasingly serve students from varied backgrounds who may need even longer to complete a degree due to work or family obligations. A recent study from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports that 54.8% of students at two- and four-year colleges complete a degree within six years, while 60.4% of students complete a degree within eight years.
Schools by Graduation Rate
We use figures from the U.S. Department of Education's College Navigator database for this page. College Navigator defines graduation rate as the percentage of full-time, first-time undergraduate students. We use the latest figures available, which include students who graduated within 150% of the normal time to program completion. For example, for a four-year program, the graduation rate includes students who graduate within six years of beginning the program.
College Navigator does not post graduation rate figures for all of the colleges on our list. We do not, however, want to penalize those colleges without data. To that end, we simply excluded those schools from the rankings in this category.
Why Does Graduation Rate Matter?
While not the definitive gauge of an institution's quality, college graduation rates contribute to a school's reputation. The most selective colleges generally boast the highest graduation rates. A school's graduation rate often reflects its academic effectiveness and the strength of its faculty, giving students a sense of what to expect once they enroll.
While our own list features a wide selection of colleges with top graduation rates, students should consider more than just these figures when selecting a school. However, it is always wise to determine a school's graduation rate as part of the overall picture.
Graduation rate can speak to a program's effectiveness
A high college graduation rate refers to a program's overall effectiveness, demonstrating that most students complete their education successfully. A school or program with a high graduation rate most likely offers a high level of student support, enabling learners to progress through their education without issues or interruptions. Other factors may also influence graduation rate, such as students transferring to a different college or even a different program at the same college.
Graduation rate can showcase strong faculty
A high graduation rate can also demonstrate a school or program's academic strengths and its depth of resources. Schools with high graduation rates typically employ strong faculty members who provide attention and support for students. These schools typically offer many student resources, including advising, counseling, and career support. A strong selection of support services can increase retention, helping students stay on track and graduate on time.
Graduation rate can provide students with insight about a school's timeline
A graduation rate can also give students an idea of what to expect in terms of a program's total completion time. Many schools' graduation figures indicate not just successful completion rates but also how long students take to complete a degree. Researching graduation rates can help students understand the general timeline for a program and whether most candidates graduate on time. Learners should also investigate what percentage of students enroll full time vs. part time.
What Can a High Graduation Rate Mean?
While a high graduation rate often indicates academic quality and a strong student support system, these numbers do not necessarily tell the whole story about a college. More selective institutions typically report higher graduation rates. However, these schools are more likely to admit students from wealthier backgrounds, who generally graduate at a higher rate than other students.
Graduation rates commonly indicate the number of full-time undergraduate students who complete their degree within 150% of the published program time. However, these figures may not always reflect students enrolled part time or those who take more than six years to complete their degree.
While graduation rates may not provide a full picture of a school and its strengths, they serve as one measure of evaluating an institution's effectiveness. While these figures may cater primarily to traditional four-year students, part-time students and returning learners should also examine graduation rates.
Graduation Rate FAQs
|What is a good graduation rate for college?||Top colleges often maintain graduation rates above 90%. For example, Harvard holds a graduation rate of 98%, while Yale holds a graduation rate of 97%.|
|Does graduation rates matter?||While students should not judge a school solely on its graduation rates, these rates often correspond to an institution's selectivity and the strength of its academic programs.|
|Are college graduation rates declining?||As of 2019, college graduation rates are increasing slightly. However, only 58.3% of students complete a bachelor's degree within six years.|
|What is a bad graduation rate in college?||Less-selective schools often maintain graduation rates below 50%. Schools that offer open enrollment (no set admission requirements) typically have the lowest graduation rates.|