College Graduation Rates

Less than half of college students graduate in the normal timeframe. Find the new normal and more graduation statistics in our report.

Published September 16, 2022

Edited by Jordan Stewart-Rozema, Ph.D.
Fact-checked by by Marley Hall
College Graduation Rates
Photo by Ariel Skelley / DigitalVision / Getty Images


Data Summary

  • Between 2008-2020, 3 in 5 bachelor's students graduated.[1]
  • 2.1 million people received bachelor's degrees in 2021. Almost 350,000 earned an associate degree.[2]
  • Almost half (47%) of bachelor's students finished their degree in four years.Footnote [1]
  • 64% of bachelor's students graduated within six years.Footnote [1]
  • 34% of students at two-year colleges graduated within three years.[3]
  • Female students graduate from college at rates 3-7% higher than male students.Footnote [1]

Between 2008-2020, the average college graduation rate at four-year schools was 60%.Footnote [1] However, the average college graduation rate depends on several factors, including:

  • School type
  • Program length
  • Entry year
  • Gender
  • Race

This report covers recent college grad statistics plus trends from years past.

College Graduation Rates By School Type

Among four-year institutions, for-profit schools have the lowest graduation rates. They're less than half of the graduation rate for all school types.

However, two-year for-profit schools have higher graduation rates than other two-year schools. Average college dropout rates are similar — higher at four-year for-profit schools and lower at two-year for-profit schools.

Graduation Rate at Four-Year Institutions, 2020 (2014 Entry Class)
Type Percent Graduated Within Four Years Percent Graduated Within Five Years Percent Graduated Within Six Years
Public 42% 59% 63%
Nonprofit 57% 65% 68%
For-Profit 23% 27% 29%
All School Types 47% 61% 64%

Source: NCES

Graduation Rate at Two-Year Institutions, 2020 (2017 Entry Class)
Type Percent Graduated in Three Years
Public 29%
Nonprofit 52%
For-Profit 62%
All School Types 34%

Source: NCES

Community College Graduation Rates

Public two-year schools, also called community colleges, tend to have lower graduation rates than four-year schools. However, some community college students transfer to four-year schools to finish their degrees.

Among students who started at community colleges in the 2014-15 academic year, within six years:[4]

  • 31% graduated.
  • 8% completed their degree at a four-year school.
  • 3% completed their degree at a different two-year school.
  • 13% were still enrolled.

College Graduation Rate Over Time

The average college graduation rate at four-year schools rose seven percentage points between 2002 and 2014 entry cohorts.Footnote [1] Graduation rates have generally increased at four-year public and nonprofit colleges over the years. They've been less predictable at for-profit colleges.

Between 2008 and 2017, graduation levels dipped slightly and then rebounded at two-year institutions, hovering around 30%.Footnote [3] However, community colleges' graduation rate increased by 9 percentage points during that time.

Number of College Graduates Over Time

The total number of college graduates at four-year institutions increased steadily in the early 2000s, similar to the four-year college graduation rate.

While community colleges have seen a rise in completion rates, the number of graduates at these schools has shrunk. One reason for this may be because community colleges have experienced the steepest recent college enrollment decline compared to other school types.

Source: NCES tables 326.10 and 305.10

Source: NCES tables 326.20 and 305.10

College Graduation Rates by Gender

Women graduate at higher rates than men and have every year in the recent past. Over the past decade, women have graduated at rates 3-7 percentage points higher than men.Footnote [1], Footnote [3]

  • Between 2008-2020, female students have graduated from four-year schools at rates about 4-6 percentage points higher than male students.Footnote [1]
  • Between 2011-2020, female students have graduated from two-year schools at rates about 3-7 percentage points higher than male students.Footnote [3]
  • In 2021, 61% of male and 67% of female students graduated from four-year colleges.Footnote [1]
  • 32% of male and 35% of female students graduated from two-year colleges in 2021.Footnote [3]

College Graduation Rates by Race

Centuries of racial exclusion in higher education influence college enrollment and graduation rates.

  • White, Asian, and non-U.S. resident students have above-average graduation rates.Footnote [1], Footnote [3]
  • American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, Pacific Islander, Hispanic and Latino/a, and multiracial students have below-average graduation rates.Footnote [1], Footnote [3]

Source: NCES

Average College Graduation Rate by State

Explore the map and table below to find the graduation rate for each state. Also, read more about educational attainment levels by state.

Average College Graduation Rate: State Rankings

hint: scroll to view the full table

Source: U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard. 2021.

Behind the Numbers

Unless stated otherwise, "graduation rate" refers to the percentage of college entrants who graduate from the first institute they attended within 150% of the standard program length. That means they graduate within six years for four-year schools and three years for two-year schools.

We downloaded Department of Education data to provide state rankings. We took the average college graduation rate among all reporting colleges in each state.



References

  1. Table 326.10 Graduation rate from first institution attended for first-time, full-time bachelor's degree-seeking students at 4-year postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity, time to completion, sex, control of institution, and percentage of applications accepted: Selected cohort entry years, 1996 through 2014. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). October 2021.
  2. U.S. Department of Education, NCES, IPEDS, Completions component (provisional data). Fall 2021.
  3. Table 326.20. Graduation rate from first institution attended within 150 percent of normal time for first-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking students at 2-year postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity, sex, and control of institution: Selected cohort entry years, 2000 through 2017. NCES. October 2021.
  4. Causey, J., Pevitz, A., Ryu, M., Scheetz, A., & Shapiro, D., Completing College: National and State Report on SixYear Completion Rates for Fall 2015 Beginning Cohort (Signature Report 20), Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. February 2022.