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Being accepted into college is a major milestone for any student. But it’s only one step toward receiving a degree. The sad truth is that many students never bridge the gap between enrollment and graduation.

According to a 2014 study by Complete College America, less than 50 percent of full-time public college students graduate in four years at the majority of public colleges. And private colleges don’t fare much better, particularly for low-income students.

RELATED: These are the richest public colleges by endowment

Of course, not all schools face such low graduation rates. StartClass, an education research site by Graphiq, found the biggest colleges where the most students graduate on time. Using 2015 data (the most recent year available) from the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, StartClass ranked big colleges by their undergraduate four-year graduation rate. To qualify as a “big college,” institutions needed to have at least 15,000 undergraduate students. Only colleges with a four-year graduation rate greater than 50 percent were included.


Also included is each school’s Smart Rating, which consists of the following factors:

  • Academic excellence: This includes the institution’s four-year graduation rate, full-time retention rate, student-faculty ratio and endowment per student, among other things.
  • Expert opinion: StartClass compiles the latest college rankings from several publications, such as Forbes and U.S. News.
  • Admissions selectivity: This takes into account the college’s acceptance rate, average ACT and SAT scores as well as the percent of freshmen in the top half of their high school graduating class.
  • Career readiness: This is largely determined by the post-graduation salaries of the school’s alumni.
  • Financial affordability: Determined by the university’s average net price, financial aid and other factors.

Of the 37 schools on this list, only three have four-year graduation rates at or above 80 percent, and none exceed 90 percent. Although flagship public universities dominate the ranking, some private schools make the cut, including USC and Syracuse.

RELATED: Stay home, save money — these are the best public colleges in every state

Note: Ties are broken by each school’s six-year undergrad graduation rate and then by Smart Rating. The six-year graduation rate is the percentage of students who graduate within six years, meaning it also includes the four-year rate.

37. University of Texas at Austin

  • Location: Austin, Texas
  • Smart Rating: 92.85
  • Undergraduates: 39,619
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 51%
    • Six-year: 79%

36. University of California, Davis

  • Location: Davis, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 92.74
  • Undergraduates: 28,257
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 51%
    • Six-year: 81%

35. University at Buffalo

  • Location: Buffalo, N.Y.
  • Smart Rating: 89.88
  • Undergraduates: 19,953
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 52%
    • Six-year: 72%

34. DePaul University

  • Location: Chicago, Ill.
  • Smart Rating: 86.77
  • Undergraduates: 15,961
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 54%
    • Six-year: 70%

33. University of South Carolina

  • Location: Columbia, S.C.
  • Smart Rating: 89.28
  • Undergraduates: 25,237
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 54%
    • Six-year: 73%

32. University of Minnesota

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
  • Smart Rating: 92.02
  • Undergraduates: 34,071
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 54%
    • Six-year: 75%

31. University of Wisconsin–Madison

  • Location: Madison, Wis.
  • Smart Rating: 93.14
  • Undergraduates: 30,991
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 55%
    • Six-year: 83%

30. University of California, San Diego

  • Location: San Diego, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 94.08
  • Undergraduates: 26,590
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 56%
    • Six-year: 86%

29. Florida State University

  • Location: Tallahassee, Fla.
  • Smart Rating: 90.65
  • Undergraduates: 32,706
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 57%
    • Six-year: 77%

28. Rutgers University

  • Location: New Brunswick, N.J.
  • Smart Rating: 90.74
  • Undergraduates: 35,484
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 57%
    • Six-year: 79%

27. University of Washington

  • Location: Seattle, Wash.
  • Smart Rating: 92.67
  • Undergraduates: 31,063
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 57%
    • Six-year: 81%

26. University of Georgia

  • Location: Athens, Ga.
  • Smart Rating: 92.31
  • Undergraduates: 27,547
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 57%
    • Six-year: 82%

25. Indiana University Bloomington

  • Location: Bloomington, Ind.
  • Smart Rating: 90.75
  • Undergraduates: 38,364
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 58%
    • Six-year: 77%

24. University of Massachusetts Amherst

  • Location: Amherst, Mass.
  • Smart Rating: 90.49
  • Undergraduates: 22,748
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 59%
    • Six-year: 73%

23. Clemson University

  • Location: Clemson, S.C.
  • Smart Rating: 91.44
  • Undergraduates: 18,016
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 59%
    • Six-year: 83%

22. The Ohio State University

  • Location: Columbus, Ohio
  • Smart Rating: 92.03
  • Undergraduates: 45,289
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 59%
    • Six-year: 83%

21. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

  • Location: Blacksburg, Va.
  • Smart Rating: 91.18
  • Undergraduates: 25,384
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 61%
    • Six-year: 83%

20. University of Pittsburgh

  • Location: Pittsburgh, Pa.
  • Smart Rating: 90.74
  • Undergraduates: 18,908
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 64%
    • Six-year: 80%

19. James Madison University

  • Location: Harrisonburg, Va.
  • Smart Rating: 89.79
  • Undergraduates: 19,396
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 65%
    • Six-year: 81%

18. Pennsylvania State University

  • Location: University Park, Pa.
  • Smart Rating: 91.32
  • Undergraduates: 40,742
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 65%
    • Six-year: 85%

17. University of Florida

  • Location: Gainesville, Fla.
  • Smart Rating: 93.79
  • Undergraduates: 33,402
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 65%
    • Six-year: 87%

16. University of Maryland

  • Location: College Park, Md.
  • Smart Rating: 92.75
  • Undergraduates: 27,443
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 66%
    • Six-year: 84%

15. Miami University

  • Location: Oxford, Ohio
  • Smart Rating: 90.28
  • Undergraduates: 16,387
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 68%
    • Six-year: 81%

14. University of California, Santa Barbara

  • Location: Santa Barbara, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 93.28
  • Undergraduates: 20,607
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 68%
    • Six-year: 81%

13. University of Delaware

  • Location: Newark, Del.
  • Smart Rating: 91.34
  • Undergraduates: 19,100
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 68%
    • Six-year: 82%

12. University of Connecticut

  • Location: Storrs, Conn.
  • Smart Rating: 92.02
  • Undergraduates: 18,826
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 68%
    • Six-year: 83%

11. University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

  • Location: Champaign, Ill.
  • Smart Rating: 93.28
  • Undergraduates: 33,368
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 68%
    • Six-year: 84%

10. University of California, Irvine

  • Location: Irvine, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 92.78
  • Undergraduates: 25,256
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 68%
    • Six-year: 86%

9. Syracuse University

  • Location: Syracuse, N.Y.
  • Smart Rating: 91.53
  • Undergraduates: 15,196
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 69%
    • Six-year: 81%

8. University of California, Los Angeles

  • Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 95.5
  • Undergraduates: 29,585
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 69%
    • Six-year: 90%

7. University of California, Berkeley

  • Location: Berkeley, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 96
  • Undergraduates: 27,496
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 72%
    • Six-year: 91%

6. University of Michigan

  • Location: Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Smart Rating: 95.22
  • Undergraduates: 28,312
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 76%
    • Six-year: 90%

5. New York University

  • Location: New York, N.Y.
  • Smart Rating: 92.05
  • Undergraduates: 25,722
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 77%
    • Six-year: 84%

4. University of Southern California

  • Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 94.45
  • Undergraduates: 18,810
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 78%
    • Six-year: 91%

3. Boston University

  • Location: Boston, Mass.
  • Smart Rating: 92.47
  • Undergraduates: 17,932
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 80%
    • Six-year: 84%

2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
  • Smart Rating: 95.1
  • Undergraduates: 18,415
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 81%
    • Six-year: 90%

1. University of Virginia

  • Location: Charlottesville, Va.
  • Smart Rating: 95.06
  • Undergraduates: 16,736
  • Graduation rates
    • Four-year: 86%
    • Six-year: 93%
Alex Greer, StartClass |
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