Visit this page for a complete list and an interactive map of the 113 college dropout factories.

Dear College Dropout Factories,

As part of our quest to increase the public demand for greater accountability in higher education, The Education Trust has continued our commitment to identifying four-year colleges and universities that fail to graduate the vast majority of their students in a timely fashion. Roughly 95 percent of all other four-year institutions have higher graduation rates than you do. This year, 113 institutions made the list of college dropout factories, 65 of which were on this same list last year.

You appear on this list if your institution:

  • was eligible to receive student federal financial aid (Title IV funds),
  • enrolled at least 30 freshmen that began their studies as full-time students in the fall of 2007, and
  • had a 2013 six-year graduation rate below 18 percent for those students that initially enrolled full-time in 2007.

Because your institution’s graduation rate falls in the bottom 5 percent, we have tagged your institution as a “college dropout factory” in College Results Online, our interactive web tool designed to provide policymakers, counselors, parents, students, and others with information about college outcomes. We hope that by providing this label, we will convince students — particularly those looking to attend full-time — to think long and hard before spending their money and time at your institutions.

It is critical to acknowledge that many of your institutions face challenges, ranging from stagnant or declining funding to students that come to your campuses academically unprepared and with few resources. However, we assure you that many of your institutions are not unique in this aspect. Using College Results Online, we compared the graduation rates of similar colleges that serve student populations like yours and found that the overwhelming majority of your institutions performed well below your peers.

It’s also important to note that there are a handful of you that mostly serve part-time and transfer students and have very few students who initially enroll full-time. Thus, you may feel that the six-year graduation rate does not adequately capture the full scope of your service to students. On that point we agree, but that reality doesn’t mean the six-year graduation rate should be ignored. The small percentage of students who do attend full-time in search of a degree can’t be overlooked.

No matter how you view it, it is imperative that you do better. Your students deserve it.

Each year, we re-assess this list, determining the bottom 5 percent. Each year, it changes, as some institutions improve and bring up the overall benchmark for everyone. This year, for example, the bottom 5 percent of institutions have grad rates below 18 percent. Next year, it could be 20 percent. These incremental changes signal improvement, and we hope it’s what we see next year. What we don’t want to see? The same institutions on this list year after year.

Of course, that improvement will not be easy, and it will require a serious top-to-bottom examination of core functions. As we have learned over the years, institutional leaders must prioritize student success, bolster both general and targeted student support systems, do what is necessary to keep costs low (especially for students least able to pay), analyze data in ways that illuminate key barriers to student progression and completion, and aggressively attack these challenges with strategic intervention and innovation. We know this is possible, because we have seen institutions do it.

If they can do it, you can turn things around, too.


Andrew H. Nichols, Ph.D.

Director of Higher Education Research and Data Analytics

The Education Trust