University of Wisconsin-Madison: UW–Madison graduation rates rise again, setting records

Undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are taking less time to complete their degrees — a key measure of student success and a significant factor in college affordability.

The university’s six-year and four-year graduation rates are at record highs, and the average time-to-degree for undergraduates has shortened again. The results exceed those at many other major public research universities.

“These are the best numbers we’ve seen at UW–Madison and speak to the university’s educational excellence,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Importantly, these figures highlight our continuous efforts to keep an education at the state’s flagship university a great value for our Wisconsin families.”

Graduation rates

UW–Madison’s six-year graduation rate is now 89.2 percent, up from 88.5 percent the prior year, according to the university’s Office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research. The latest figure is based on freshmen who entered the university in 2015.

UW–Madison’s six-year graduation rate exceeds the most recent peer average of 81.1 percent by more than eight points and puts UW–Madison in the Top 10 of public research universities.

The gap in six-year graduation rates between underrepresented students of color and the overall rate has been cut by a third over the last 10 years, from 18 percentage points for the 2006 entering cohort to 6 percentage points for the 2015 entering cohort.

The four-year graduation rate also improved at UW–Madison. For students who entered as new freshmen in 2017, the rate rose to 71.8 percent, up from 71.2 percent. The rate is up more than 10 points from six years ago (61 percent) and is substantially higher than the most recent peer average (64.9 percent).


The average time-to-degree for 2020-21 bachelor’s degree recipients was 3.89 years — 40 days less than four elapsed calendar years, another UW–Madison record. This is the third consecutive year the figure has been below four calendar years. Last year, the figure was 3.92 years.

University officials have pointed to numerous factors that likely are contributing to the positive graduation and time-to-degree metrics, including motivated, hard-working students, faculty and staff; enhanced academic and career advising; the expansion of summer term; and new online tools that help undergraduates easily find and enroll in the courses they need.

Retention rate, degrees conferred

The retention rate for undergraduates from the first year to the second year remained robust at 95.2 percent, the same as last year.

The university conferred a record 7,671 bachelor’s degrees during the 2020-21 academic year, up more than 200 from the prior year. The university conferred 2,537 master’s degrees, also up more than 200 from the prior year and a record.

The number of total degrees conferred, including bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, rose to 11,663, the highest ever and up from last year’s then-high of 11,169.

“It’s impressive that all of these metrics — graduation rates, time-to-degree, the retention rate, the number of graduates — continue to be so strong despite the impacts of a global pandemic,” says Provost Karl Scholz. “This is a good indication of the health of the university, and it could not have happened without the extra efforts of our faculty and staff and the hard work of our students during this exceptionally challenging time.”