There are two critical statistics parents and teens should consider when mulling prospective colleges: retention rates and graduation rates. These are markers of how happy students are, how well-supported they feel in their academic pursuits and private lives - and how likely it is that your $30,000-$50,000 a year will yield both a good education and a diploma at the end of the line.
The graduation rate for the 2.8 million kids who head off to college each year in the United States is staggeringly low - just 1 in 5 community college students have an AA degree three years later, and only 2 in 5 who enroll in 4-year universities have a bachelor's degree after six years. Although disinterest, laziness or time management issues may be a factor for some students, for the majority of young adults, the reason stems from financial stress. They can't work enough hours to support themselves and do well in school, according to a 2009 study, "With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them," by the nonpartisan research organization, Public Agenda.
That said, some schools do a vastly better job of supporting, retaining and propelling their students toward graduation than others. At Yale, 90% of the students who began as freshmen in 2002 had graduated from Yale four years later, and that percentage rose to 97% at the six-year mark. But the numbers are all over the map. At the University of Colorado, Boulder, for example, 41% had graduated in four years, and 67% in six during the same time period; another 19% had transferred to another university. The question to ask is why the disparity and how that's likely to affect your child.
Find graduation rates for any U.S. university or college by using the federal government's College Navigator.