Are Graduation Rates an Indicator of a College’s Quality?

Can you use a graduation rate to determine the quality of a college?

Flickr user Dave Herholz

A very debated topic, it’s still not entirely decided whether a college’s graduation rate is a good indicator of the school’s quality or not. Whether this number gives you a clear picture or not really depends.

Look Beyond the Numbers

There is one fact that stands, even among the debate, for a school to be considered a quality college, it needs to have at least a decent graduation rate. No one wants to attend a college that has an extremely low percent that goes on to graduate.

However, these numbers are not cut and dry. It’s important to look beyond the graduation rate. For example, a school with a ridiculously high percentage of graduates may not be the best option. It may have an easier curriculum than another college. You could get the degree, but also a less than quality education. Research is really key here. Look into what other students are saying about the college as well as other rankings such as teacher to student ratio, first-year retention rates, loan default rates, and selectivity.

Depends on the Student

A school’s high graduation rate may tell one story: It’s a good school and has good students. However, this number really fails to account for the individual and your potential for success. While one student may flourish at this college, you or another may not. Not every student is the same, so it may be a great choice for others but not you.

This dissatisfaction on a student’s end may lead to a dropout or transfer.

Depends on the School

Just as it depends on the student, whether or not you can really look seriously at a graduation rate equaling quality depends on each individual school. As stated before, quality goes beyond graduation. A close look at job rates after graduation, average salaries, and even the coursework can give you an idea of how a college stands up to others when it comes to your future.

Schools that offer certifications or associate’s degrees may also have skewed graduation rates. When it comes to two-year programs, these numbers don’t always take into account the students who transfer to a four-year university. Certifications, on the other hand, can lead to numbers skewed in the other direction. Only lasting a year or less, there aren’t many opportunities for a student to drop out. If a school offers a certification program, it could cause the college to have a higher graduation rate, even if they also offer bachelor’s degrees.

Overall, a graduation rate can give you a great place to start on your college research path, but it shouldn’t be the ultimate deciding factor on where you apply or even attend. There are a lot of other factors at play. Make sure you look deeper into the schools you’re considering, including what programs they offer as well as other numbers that may give you the bigger picture. Visiting is also a must. No matter what, research is the most important part of the application process.

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