[3:15 p.m. note: This post has been edited to correct an error in the original article.]

David Waugh writes for the Martin Center about poor graduation rates among N.C. colleges.

The era of the four-year bachelor’s degree is over; today, only top students graduate within the traditional college timeline.

Few North Carolina colleges can graduate the majority of their students within four years—the average four-year graduation rate is only 35 percent. Even so, that rate is better than the national average of 33.3 percent. The six-year national graduation rate is 57.6 percent.

Students at private colleges and universities usually fare better: The four-year national graduation rate is 52.8 percent, and 65.4 percent earn a degree in six years, according to the Department of Education.

The new benchmark for college graduation is now the six-year rate; the National Center for Education Statistics promotes the six-year rate instead of the four-year rate. The goalposts for evaluating how well colleges educate students keep moving.

The most competitive North Carolina colleges for admission generally have the highest four-year graduation rates. Davidson, Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, and Elon have the highest graduation rates, while colleges such as Livingstone, Shaw, Chowan, and North Carolina Wesleyan have the lowest.

The trend makes sense, as elite institutions accept students with strong academic backgrounds who usually have the best plans and resources to graduate on time. Graduation rates don’t only depend on the initiative of students, however—many universities with similar student bodies have wildly different graduation rates. Colleges that prioritize high graduation rates, especially for part-time students, tend to have much higher graduation rates.

Students don’t graduate for a variety of reasons. The most common reason students don’t graduate is that they attend part-time and struggle with the work-life balance being a part-time student entails.