When you choose a college you may be focused on things like atmosphere, amenities and even location, but do not overlook the importance of recent college graduation rates.

Colleges gather a great deal of data and then hand this data over to the U.S. Department of Education so that the department can assess how schools are performing based on the picture that all of the enrollment and graduation figures is painting. While there is more than one important factor that you can use when you are making your decision on where to attend school, this figure is one that you need to understand before you look past it. Read on, and learn more about graduation rates, what they mean, and the limitations that exist.

What is a Graduation Rate and How Is it Calculated?

In the world of higher education, a graduation rate is defined as the percentage of 4-year students who enrolled in a degree program as a first-year student and who graduate from that 4-year program within a span of 6 years. It is does not include all students, but just first-time students who started their higher education career at the institution and who plan on ending their career at the same institution. This number is calculated by reviewing the the number of students who started a program and by tracking their enrollment status until they finally stop attending school or walk the line with the degree that they intended to.

Why Are Graduation Rates Important Statistics?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, which is part of the Institute of Education Services, the average graduation rate nationwide is 59 percent. The number is significantly higher in non-profit private schools than it is at both for-profit schools and public schools, so this is a consideration that you need to know. Once of the reasons why these rates that might not dictate your ability to succeed in school is because it could be an indicator that warns you to steer clear.

Most students do not enroll in school full-time with the intentions of dropping out, and while some just do not anticipate how challenging it can be to balance school and life, others just do not have the help and resources they need to succeed.

If you notice that a very low percentage of students are succeeding, it could be a sign that faculty members are not accountable and that the school is not committed to helping their student body. This is why it is so important to review the list of published graduation rates so that you can see where the school you are interested in stacks up against the competition.

Limitations That You Should Be Aware of When You Are Comparing Schools

Now that you know just how helpful graduation rates can be, you should be aware of some of the ways that these rates are skewed. The numbers are not always accurate because they do not factor in part-time students, college transfer students, reentry students who graduate and also students taking 2-year programs. As long as you know that there are inaccuracies, you can use the measure as it is intended but still know the red flags to look for.

Concluding Thoughts

Statistics are important, but there is a lot more to comparing colleges than looking at data and measures. Make sure that you check certain things off of the list and prioritize. If you find a good list, you will then be able to compare the college graduation rates to make a better decision near the end of your search.

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