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Annual Reports and Information Staff (Annual Reports)
Postsecondary Education

Undergraduate Retention and Graduation Rates

(Last Updated: May 2021)

About 63 percent of students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2013 completed that degree at the same institution within 6 years; the 6-year graduation rate was higher for females than for males (66 vs. 60 percent).

Retention rates measure the percentage of first-time undergraduate students who return to the same institution the following fall, and graduation rates measure the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who complete their program at the same institution within a specified period of time. This indicator examines how retention and graduation rates for first-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students vary among different types of postsecondary institutions. It also examines how graduation rates have changed over time and how they differ between male and female students.

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Figure 1. Percentage of first-time, full-time degree-seeking undergraduate students retained at 4-year degree-granting institutions, by control of institution and percentage of applications accepted: 2018 to 2019
Figure 1. Percentage of first-time, full-time degree-seeking undergraduate students retained at 4-year degree-granting institutions, by control of institution and percentage of applications accepted: 2018 to 2019

1 This retention rate for private for-profit institutions with acceptance rates of less than 25.0 percent is calculated from an adjusted cohort of three students.

2 Includes institutions that have an open admissions policy, institutions that have various applicant acceptance rates, and institutions for which no acceptance rate information is available.

NOTE: Data are for 4-year degree-granting postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Data shown represent the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data are derived from adjusted entry cohorts, which are based on first-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students and exclude students who died or were totally and permanently disabled, served in the armed forces (including those called to active duty), served with a foreign aid service of the federal government (e.g., Peace Corps), or served on official church missions. Retained first-time undergraduate students are those who returned to the institutions to continue their studies the following fall. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2020, Fall Enrollment component; and Fall 2018, Institutional Characteristics component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 326.30.

Figure 2. Percentage of first-time, full-time degree-seeking undergraduate students retained at 2-year degree-granting institutions, by control of institution: 2018 to 2019
Figure 2. Percentage of first-time, full-time degree-seeking undergraduate students retained at 2-year degree-granting institutions, by control of institution: 2018 to 2019

NOTE: Data are for 2-year degree-granting postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Data shown represent the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Retained students include students who re-enrolled at the institution in the following fall term (i.e., returning students) and those who completed their program of study during the following fall term (i.e., a degree/certificate program that takes less than 2 years). Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2020, Fall Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 326.30.

Figure 3. Graduation rate within 150 percent of normal time (within 6 years) for degree completion from first institution attended for first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students at 4-year postsecondary institutions, by control of institution and sex: Cohort entry year 2013
Figure 3. Graduation rate within 150 percent of normal time (within 6 years) for degree completion from first institution attended for first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students at 4-year postsecondary institutions, by control of institution and sex: Cohort entry year 2013

NOTE: Data are for 4-year degree-granting postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Graduation rates include students receiving bachelor’s degrees from their initial institution of attendance only.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Winter 2019–20, Graduation Rates component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 326.10.

Figure 4. Graduation rate within 150 percent of normal time for degree completion from first institution attended for first-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking students at 2-year postsecondary institutions, by control of institution and sex: Cohort entry year 2016
Figure 4. Graduation rate within 150 percent of normal time for degree completion from first institution attended for first-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking students at 2-year postsecondary institutions, by control of institution and sex: Cohort entry year 2016

NOTE: Data are for 2-year degree-granting postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Graduation rates include students receiving associate's degrees or certificates from their initial institution of attendance only. An example of completing a credential within 150 percent of the normal time is completing a 2-year degree within 3 years. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Winter 2019–20, Graduation Rates component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 326.20.


1 Transfer out data are required to be reported only by those institutions for which preparation for transfers is a substantial part of the institutional mission.

Supplemental Information

Table 326.10 (Digest 2020): 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 2013;
Table 326.20 (Digest 2020): 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 2016;
Table 326.25 (Digest 2020): Percentage distribution of first-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking students at 2-year postsecondary institutions 3 years after entry, by completion and enrollment status at first institution attended, sex, race/ethnicity, and control of institution: Cohort entry years 2011 and 2016;
Table 326.30 (Digest 2020): Retention of first-time degree-seeking undergraduates at degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by attendance status, level and control of institution, and percentage of applications accepted: Selected years, 2006 to 2019
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