News & Resources

The Rise and Fall of the Graduation Rate

The way students go to college now makes the government’s measure less useful than ever.

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To Raise Completion Rates, States Dig Deeper for Data

Knowing more about students can help colleges do what it takes to help them graduate. Easier said than done.

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For-Profits Develop More-Forgiving Measures to Tally Grads

The federal rate’s flaws loom especially large for proprietary colleges. But are their alternatives more marketing than metric?

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Students Who Don’t Count

Transfers, people who take a year off, and part-time students – all a growing group of enrollees – are not included in national data about who finishes college.

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Do College Completion Rates Really Measure Quality?

Seven higher-education experts assess the meaning behind the measurements.

Previous Chronicle Coverage of Graduation Rates


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Despite Years of Credits, Still No Degree

We need sensible transfer standards to ensure acknowledgment of students’ completed course work.

Raising Graduation Rates Involves More Than Just Colleges

What’s needed are prominent allies that have a vested interest in seeing more postsecondary credentials go to those young people and adults who have often been out of higher education’s reach.

Higher Graduation Rates at What Cost?

it’s possible that students are more likely to graduate from career colleges. But they graduate with a lot more debt.

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Are Graduation and Retention Rates the Right Measures?

In general, those numbers correlate more closely to student socioeconomic status and family situation than they do to institutional type, sector, or quality.


How Graduation Rates Shape College Choice

Graduation rates matter to politicians and college presidents. But how much do they matter to parents of prospective applicants?

College Enrollments Continue to Climb, While Graduation Rates Hold Steady

An annual report from the U.S. Education Department also examines what first-time, full-time students who received grants paid for college.

Reports Highlight Disparities in Graduation Rates Among White and Minority Students

The Education Trust’s reports look at individual colleges where the gaps are particularly large or small.

Improving College Completion in the South, One Student at a Time

Institutions need to get college administrators and faculty members focused on student success and offer students individualized help, says a report.

Education Dept. Data Show Rise in Enrollment and Student Aid but Flat Graduation Rates

An annual report from the department with statistics for 2008 finds that increasing numbers of students are not reflected by increasing numbers of graduates.

Dwindling Funds for Instruction Lie Behind Poor Graduation Rates, Scholars Say

The primary reason college-completion rates have declined is not underprepared students but insufficient resources at less-selective colleges.

Graduation-Rates Study Gets Mixed Reviews at American Enterprise Institute Forum

Graduation rates vary widely among colleges grouped by selectivity, especially among the least-competitive institutions, the study found.

Education Dept. Releases Data on Graduation Rates and Student Aid

The statistics show wide variation in graduation rates among different groups of students.

Chronicle Analysis

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Graduation Rates Fall at One-Third of 4-Year Colleges

Campus officials cite competing priorities, longer time to degree, and students’ difficult financial straits.

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6-Year Graduation Rates: a 6-Minute Primer

It is a deeply flawed measure of college performance, but it is also one of the best we have.

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For Certain Types of Students, the Finish Line Keeps Receding

Why are some public universities’ graduation rates stronger than others’?

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To Pump Up Degree Counts, Colleges Try to Invite Dropouts Back

But the reality of identifying, tracking down, and persuading former students to return is complicated, not to mention time-consuming.

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City U. of New York Plans ‘a Grand Experiment’

Leaders of the institution had a radical idea: Build a new community college, one that is focused on graduation rates.

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How Do You Make America the Best-Educated Country?

Tennessee, for example, has devised new measures to tie its financial support for public colleges to their graduation rates. It’s a start.

Obama’s 2020 Goal

In Interview, Education Secretary Focuses on College Costs, Completion

President Obama’s goals for higher education are ambitious but attainable, and U.S. colleges need to do their part to control costs, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an interview.

Obama to Propose Graduation Goal and $12-Billion in Programs for 2-Year Colleges

President Obama has called on the nation’s community colleges to produce five million more graduates by the year 2020.

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Lumina Describes How Far States Have to Go to Meet College-Completion Goals

The states must increase the number of college degrees granted by nearly 280,000 a year, each year, to have 60 percent of adults hold degrees by 2025.

17 States Pledge to Increase Graduation Rates, Joining a New National Effort

Participating states will be required to set yearly goals for improvement and to publicly report data on their progress.

Community-College Officials Debate How to Deliver More Graduates

A big topic for college leaders is how to meet the president’s goal of having millions more complete their degrees.

Duncan Says For-Profit Colleges Are Important to Obama’s 2020 Goal

At a time of anxiety in the for-profit sector, the education secretary emphasizes the colleges’ “vital role” in job training.

High-School Dropout Rate Is Cited as a Key Barrier to Obama’s College-Completion Goal

President Obama, who wants the United States to have more college degrees than any other nation by 2020, has issued a challenge to improve the 30-percent dropout rate.

Arne Duncan Is Still Angling to Reward Colleges for Better Results

The education secretary said he hopes to reallocate money from other federal programs to encourage colleges to contain costs and improve graduation rates.

Governors Unveil Their Own Effort to Get More Students Through College

The National Governors Association’s new chairman announced a plan to create a common set of measures to monitor progress and compare states’ achievements.

Higher-Education Groups Lay Out Strategies to Reach Obama’s College-Completion Goal

Federal, state, and college leaders must commit to collaborate, a report says, and colleges must put more focus on controlling costs and improving instruction.

Resources on College Graduation Rates and Other Completion Information

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), is the source of official graduation rate information, as well as a variety of other data points for students, faculty, and institutions.

The Voluntary System of Accountability centers graduation statistics on the student rather than the university with its Student Success and Progress Rate, providing a more accurate picture of college completion.

Details on the Voluntary System of Accountability:

Methods used to create the Student Success and Progress rate: (PDF)

More specifics on the source data from the National Student Clearinghouse:

College Portraits, the website with a full accounting of the VSA’s data collection efforts:

Limited information is available for many students who don’t fit into the traditional first-time, full-time mold. Complete College America provides graduation summaries for 33 participating states, including overall rates for part-time students and those who have taken remedial courses.