What are Graduation Rates Like for Online CollegesIf you are trying to learn how successful you might be studying for a degree online, it can be helpful to learn about online college graduation rates. Graduation rates, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education, are figures for each school that show the percentage of first-time freshmen students earning a 4-year degree who wind up completing their entire program of study within 6 years of enrolling in their first class.

Rates that are published are based on the number of graduations that are reported each year within either a traditional school or an online school, and some schools that have higher retention rates will naturally have higher graduation rates. If you would like to learn more about some of the common graduation rates before you decide distance education is for you, read this guide.

What is the Average Nationwide Graduation Rate?

Before you can assess whether or not online students are equipped to be as successful or more successful than traditional students, you need to know the average graduation rate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the most recent data shows that approximately 59% of 4-year undergraduate students studying for a Bachelor’s degree at a degree-granting institution earned their degree over a span of 6 years or less. The rate was said to have been 58% at public schools, 32% at private schools, and 65% at private non-profit schools.

How Do Online Rates Compare to Traditional Rates and Averages?

As a key component that is used as students are discussing where they want to attend college, graduation rates are important. It can especially be used when you are comparing one type of program to another to see just how effective it is in delivering instruction and keeping students engaged. The average rate that has been reported with the top 10 largest online colleges is only 20%, but this is an average that has a very large range. Some of the better graduation rates are 66%, but some schools have a disappointing 5% that are bringing the average down.

Why Graduation Rates Matter and Why They Can Be Overlooked

Graduation rates can be a good indicator regarding the quality of a program or the quality of services provided by the school. As a measure that is straightforward and easy to calculate, knowing the number of degree-seeking students who will actually earn their degree can help you qualify a school. With this being said, you do need to realize that these figures do not always create the most accurate depiction. There are several different factors that are not used to calculate rates that can make a quality school appear to be sub-par. Not only are part-time students excluded, so are those who transfer to the school. Since many online students transfer or study part-time, this puts distance education institutions at a disadvantage.


Make sure that you take the time to learn about the layout and structure of distance education programs before you decide for or against them. Some students are simply a great fit for these modern programs and some are not. If you are able to study independently, you can stay on-track with the assigned curriculum, and you can have discussions online rather than in-person, be sure to use more than just online college graduation rates to make your decision.

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