Image of Dart in the bullseye of a target - symbolizing the goal of a good graduation rate

What is a Good Graduation Rate?

We all have goals. Personal. Professional. Goals we share with family and friends. And others that we keep to ourselves until they are more developed. But what makes a goal good? For colleges and universities, what is a good graduation rate?

Black, green and yellow dartboard with a red dart in the bulls eye. Determining a good graduation rate is not as clear a target.

We all want to “define success so we can have some of it” (Schloss, 2011). We set ourselves up for failure if we don’t set achievable goals.

For example, suppose someone says that they are setting a goal to save $500 a month. But realistically, they can save $75 at most, based on income and expenses. This goal is clearly set up for failure.

Plenty of checks and balances can help ensure success. When buying a home, the mortgage company does their due diligence. They examine your financials to ensure you can pay the mortgage each month. Your goal is to own your own home. The bank’s goal is to set you up for success by making sure you don’t take on a mortgage that is impossible to pay. Let’s say your current rent (before purchasing) is $800. You may be comfortable increasing your budget to $1,000. But increasing to $5,000 is most likely a recipe for failure. Sure, we are good at identifying extremes. But what about the $1,000 per month payment, is that realistic? How about $1,100 or $1,200? When does the cost–the goal–become too much? Well, that’s a little less clear.

Set of keys left in the lock and hanging from an open door. Determining a good graduation rate is a bit like determining the appropriate mortgage for your budget.

What Does This Have To Do With Achievable Graduation Rate Goals?

Well, the same is true for graduation rates. We all want to graduate 100% of the students that enroll in our colleges and universities. But just like determining the appropriate monthly mortgage amount for each homeowner, the right graduation rate for a given institution involves multiple factors. And identifying good graduation rates with current metrics doesn’t tell the full story.

Calculation of the appropriate mortgage amount involves consideration of a number of factors, including income, existing credit card debt, monthly expenses, and credit score. In a similar way, an appropriate graduation rate should take into account an institution’s characteristics, as well as those of its students. RealityCheck, a new data analytic tool from IEHE does just that.

With RealityCheck, you’re not just considering one graduation rate. You’re looking at the graduation rates for 12 different student groups. AND you’re comparing your actual rate for each group with the expected rate, in a way that accounts for your institution’s uniqueness. RealityCheck uses institutional data, including open admissions (not standardized test scores), institutional financial resources, demographics of the student body, sector, and more to calculate the expected completion rate for each student group.

RealityCheck can be a valuable tool for your institution in determining what an achievable graduation rate really looks like. And it can be an invaluable means for you to identify effective ways to improve it.


Want to Learn More?

Find out more about RealityCheck by contacting IEHE.


Schloss, P. (2011). Personal interview with K. Powers.




The Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education (IEHE) innovates and improves higher education standards through our strategic research, publicly available resources, and partnerships with colleges and universities. We provide extensive expertise on data strategy, IPEDS, institutional research and student success to drive institutional effectiveness.