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College & Workforce Readiness

College Completion Focus of Attention

By Debra Viadero — June 08, 2009 1 min read

Nationwide, only 60 percent of the freshmen who set foot on college campuses each year graduate within six years, a report says, but that figure masks a lot of variation.

A student entering Harvard University is far more likely to earn a degree in six years than a student at Colorado Christian University, in Lakewood, Colo., where just 8 percent of students graduate in that span of time.

“If you’re a parent or a kid or a guidance counselor, you should have this information available, and it should be part of your decision process,” said Mark S. Schneider, a co-author of the report, “Diplomas and Dropouts.” Released June 3 by the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, the study gathers and compares six-year graduation rates for more than 1,000 colleges and universities.

As might be expected, much of the variation the authors find stems from differences between schools in the kinds of students they admit. Six-year graduation rates at Harvard, where 97 percent of students graduate in six years, and other highly competitive schools, tend to be higher than at schools with less competitive student-selectivity rankings.

To enable fairer comparisons, the researchers group schools into six categories, based on how selective they are. Even among colleges in the same category, though, graduation rates vary widely. For instance, among schools that are ranked “competitive,” the largest category, rates range from 12 percent at Vorhees College, in Denmark, S.C., and Texas Southern University, in Houston, to 89 percent for the College of Our Lady of the Elms, in Chicopee, Mass.

“When two colleges that enroll similar students have a graduation-rate gap of 20 or 30 points or more,” the report says, “it’s fair to ask why.”

Geri H. Malandra, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, a Washington-based group that represents colleges and universities, noted that graduation rates are “just a piece of the picture.”

“We’d want to caution students from dismissing any one institution based on a single number,” she said

A version of this article appeared in the June 10, 2009 edition of Education Week

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