Dec 10, 2010

Area Colleges Make Huge Gains in Graduation Rates

While Georgetown, UVa, and the College of William and Mary retain their positions among colleges with the top graduation rates in the country, many other area schools are making impressive gains in the percent of undergrads completing degrees within six years.

Admittedly, the six year figure is often startling to parents who thought they were signing up for four years only. And many colleges protest that the way in which numbers are reported doesn’t take into account transfers or students who take extended breaks and eventually return to college.

But it’s the statistic collected by the federal government and represents the "primary, publicly available metric that describes how well colleges are serving their students."

Based on widely-quoted figures from the US Department of Education, only 53 percent of the undergrads beginning their four-year degrees complete in six years. And that rate only increased by two percentage points from 2003 to 2008.

But many local colleges and universities are working hard to improve their individual numbers, and the results are evident. According to an analysis completed by the Chronicle of Higher Education, George Mason University gets the award for “most improved” graduation rate among public research institutions.

In 2002, only 49 percent of GMU’s students graduated in six years. By 2008, the number increased by 12 percentage points to 61 percent—the second highest increase in the nation in its category. The improved graduation rate goes along with an astonishing improvement in first year retention or the number of freshman returning for their sophomore year. Since 1999, GMU’s retention has improved from a little less than 76 percent to almost 85 percent in 2008.

Other area colleges experiencing significant improvements in graduation rates include:

For an even more comprehensive view of graduation rates over time (back to 1997), check out the College Results Online website, maintained by the Education Trust.


  1. Can you also post colleges that have had declines in graduation rates? Thanks.

  2. You can research the colleges that have had declines in graduation rates on the Chronicle of Higher Education charts cited in the article (you can rearrange the order of the lists by pushing the button at the head of each column).

    The biggest declines appear to be among "Private Baccalaureate Arts and Sciences" and "Masters" Institutions. Locally, the biggest declines have been at UDC and UMUC, both of which serve nontraditional populations. Also on the negative side are Hood College, Randolph-Macon, Goucher, Frostburg, and the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.