Shocking Statistics About College Graduation Rates
College is generally a good investment, but only if you graduate. Among students who are pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, students who drop out of college are almost 100 times more likely to default on their student loans than students who graduate. College dropouts have the debt, but not the degree that can help them repay the debt.
It is therefore shocking how few college students graduate with a degree or certificate. Colleges and policymakers need to do more to help college students succeed and complete their education.
(The statistics in this article are based on my new book, Who Graduates from College? Who Doesn’t?)
Some of the Most Shocking College Graduation Statistics
Less than half of college students graduate on-time. Even after six years, less than 60% of students at 4-year colleges have earned a Bachelor’s degree. The track record for community colleges is even worse, with less than 20% of community college students earning an Associate’s degree or Certificate. That’s hardly a passing grade.
More than one million students drop out of college every year.
Three-quarters of college dropouts are first-generation college students. If neither of a student’s parents have earned at least a Bachelor’s degree, the student is much less likely to earn a college degree.
More than two-thirds of college dropouts are low-income students, with family adjusted gross income (AGI) under $50,000. High-income students with a family AGI of $100,000+ are 50% more likely to graduate than low-income students. Inadequate grants have a big impact on college graduation rates.
More than half of college dropouts were enrolled in Associate’s degree programs.
Key Factors Affecting College Graduation Rates
There are hundreds of factors that affect college graduation rates, but these are among the most significant.
Good grades matter. Students with better academic performance in high school are more likely to graduate from college.
- More than 80% of students with a 3.5 to 4.0 unweighted high school grade point average (GPA) graduate from college with a Bachelor’s degree within six years, compared with only 49% of students with a 2.0 to 2.9 GPA and a quarter of students with less than a 2.0 GPA. (Similar trends are true across income levels and first-generation college student status.)
- Students with a high school class rank in the top 75th percentile are five times more likely to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within six years, as compared with students in the bottom 25th percentile.
- Students who drop out of high school and get a GED are half as likely to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree as compared with students who earn a high school diploma.
Math matters. Students who take math classes beyond Algebra 2 are more than twice as likely to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within six years.
Part-time enrollment reduces graduation rates. Students who enroll full-time are five times more likely to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within six years, as compared with students who enroll part-time.
Full-time employment reduces graduation rates. Students who work a full-time job during the school year are half as likely to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree, as compared with students who work 12 hours or less a week. Every additional hour of work beyond 12 hours a week reduces graduation rates. Working a full-time job takes too much time away from academics.
Enrolling in a community college may save money, but it reduces Bachelor’s degree attainment rates. Of students who intend to obtain a Bachelor’s degree, only a fifth of those who start at a community college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within six years, compared with two-thirds of students who start at a 4-year public or private non-profit college.
Gap years and leaves of absence reduce college graduation rates. Students who enroll in college immediately after graduating from high school are 50% more likely to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within six years, as compared with students who take a gap year. Students who take a leave of absence are less than half as likely to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within six years. Students who switch academic majors or transfer to another college are also less likely to graduate.
Independent students are less likely to graduate. Independent students are half as likely to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within six years as compared with dependent students. Half of undergraduate students are independent students, but most assistance programs are geared toward dependent students. Independent students include students who are age 24 or older, married, have children, are veterans or serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, or are orphans.
Students who live on-campus are more likely to graduate. Students who live on-campus are two-thirds more likely to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree than students who live off-campus or with their parents.
Students who win private scholarships are more likely to graduate from college and to graduate on-time. Private scholarships reduce the student’s work and debt burden. Private scholarship recipients are more likely to enroll full-time in college. However, scholarship displacement and the taxation of scholarships prevents students from making full use of their scholarships.
Full Forbes article by Mark Kantrowitz here.