Accountability Report 2015

Chapter 3:


The University of California seeks to enable all freshmen and transfer entrants to complete their undergraduate degrees in a timely fashion and to ensure that their education prepares them to be the next generation of leaders for California, the nation and the world.

Improving graduation rates

By traditional graduation rate measures, UC’s undergraduates are highly successful.

UC’s four-year graduation rates for freshmen have risen significantly over the past 15 years — from 46 percent for the 1997 entering cohort to 62 percent for the 2010 cohort. The most recent six-year graduation rate sits at 84 percent. In addition, time-to-degree has steadily improved over time with freshmen entrants taking four years plus one quarter to graduate.

Similar gains can be found with transfer entrants whose average two-year graduation rate has increased from 37 percent for the 1997 entering cohort to 55 percent for the 2012 cohort. The most recent four-year graduation rate for transfers (2010 entering cohort) is 87 percent.

Researching factors that affect graduation rates

Implicit in the discussion of graduation rates is the need to understand factors that affect retention, because improving retention rates raises the potential ceiling for graduation rates.

While employment is often thought to contribute to lower graduation rates, undergraduates have to work a significant number of hours (i.e., 21 hours or more) for it to play a role, and only a very small proportion of undergraduates work to that extent.

Undergraduate self-evaluation

The percent of graduating seniors who express through the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES) that they are satisfied with their campus experiences is relatively consistent over the past eight years, at over 80 percent. Compared to the previous survey administration, a greater proportion of seniors now state that they are very satisfied, but the total proportion indicating that they are satisfied has slightly declined.

Undergraduate outcomes

Overall, the number of undergraduate degrees awarded by UC over the past 15 years has grown by 47 percent, from 32,741 to 48,069 degrees. Increases in the size of the entering freshman class and improving graduation rates have contributed to these positive developments. In addition, over one-third of the undergraduate degrees UC awarded in 2013–14 were in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math).

Four years later post-graduation, more than a quarter of bachelor’s degree recipients have enrolled in graduate or professional programs.

Analysis of wage data reported for UC alumni working in California shows differences in earnings depending on the student’s major. Overall, and over time, the earning capacity of UC alumni increases rapidly; ten years after graduation, alumni are earning double what they were just two years post-graduation. Success in the California labor workforce is seen across all socioeconomic groups, including students whose families qualified for federal Pell Grants. Within five years of graduation, Pell Grant recipients earn an average income higher than their parents’ combined incomes during the time those students attended UC (approximately $50,000).

California employment data of UC bachelor’s degree recipients also illustrates that ten years out, more than 30 percent of life science majors end up working in health care; 15 percent of engineering/ computer science majors end up in the Internet and computer systems industry and another 12 percent end up in engineering services; and 12 percent of social science majors end up in K–12 education.

Looking forward

Despite UC’s record of success, there are continued systemwide and campus efforts to improve undergraduate outcomes.

The March 2015 Performance Outcomes report shows that when comparing Pell and non-Pell recipients, there is a gap in graduation rates at four years that all but disappears in six years for freshmen. Graduation rates at UC tend to be lower for socioeconomically disadvantaged students (especially African-American and Chicano/Latino males) and for students from first-generation families.

In January 2015, faculty, advisers and administrators from the University’s nine undergraduate campuses and the Office of the President convened to share key research findings, programs and initiatives that support timely graduation, particularly for underrepresented race/ethnic groups and Pell Grant recipients. Campus and systemwide representatives have identified key takeaways that they will implement in the coming year, such as predictive analytics, evaluation of major coursework, expanded use of summer session courses, and student support programs. This conference is just one part of UC’s ongoing efforts to examine and improve the efficiency of educational programs as well as the success of students.

For more information

Four-year graduation rates for students who enter as freshmen have improved substantially since 1997. They are better than average graduation rates at AAU public institutions, and some campuses approach the average rates of the AAU private institutions.

3.1.1 Freshman graduation rates for all students and Pell recipients, Cohorts entering fall 1997 to 2010, UC and comparison institutions


Freshman graduation rates for all students and Pell recipients

Source: UC Corporate Student System and IPEDS1

UC’s four-year graduation rates for freshmen have risen significantly over the past 15 years — from 46 percent for the 1997 entering cohort to 62 percent for the 2010 cohort. The steady improvement in graduation rates is due to many factors, including campus efforts to encourage four-year completion, improvements in the academic preparation levels of incoming students and the current costs of a UC education, which motivate students to complete their educations more quickly.

1 Comparison IPEDS data are available for more limited years and do not include graduation rates for Pell recipients. The AAU comparison institutions are in the data glossary. Graduation rates are weighted by total cohort size. Institutions with missing data are excluded for that year. Freshmen are those students who entered UC directly from high school and who had not matriculated at another postsecondary institution prior to enrollment. UC statistics give credit to the originating campus for inter-UC campus transfers. Pell recipients are defined as those who received a Pell grant at any time during their time at UC.

The six-year graduation rate of UC freshmen is actually close to 90 percent when students who finished their degree at a non-UC institution are included.

3.1.2 Freshman graduation rates, including those who graduated from a non-UC institution, Universitywide and UC campuses, Cohort entering fall 2008


Freshman graduation rates, including those who graduated from a non-UC institution, Universitywide and UC campuses

Source: UCOP Corporate Student System and the National Student Clearinghouse1

The extended graduation rate of students who begin their studies as freshmen at UC includes a small number who transferred to a non-UC institution and completed their bachelor’s degree within four, five or six years. By this measure, UC’s overall six-year graduation rate is about 87 percent. The effect of the extended graduation rate varies by UC campus, with Berkeley having very few students who transfer out and earn a degree outside of the UC system, while the six-year rates at San Diego, Merced and Santa Cruz improve by as much as 4 to 4.5 percentage points when students who complete their degree at a non-UC school are counted.

1 Intercampus transfers within UC are counted as graduates of their originating UC campus. In this graph, non-UC rates only include those who transferred to non-UC institutions and graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

Graduation rates for students who enter as transfers grew steadily for classes entering between 1997 and 2004 but have leveled off since then. Graduation rates among Pell Grant recipients are comparable to all transfer students, especially at the three- and four-year marks.

3.1.3 Transfer graduation rates, Cohorts entering fall 1997 to 2012


Transfer graduation rates

Source: UCOP Corporate Student System1

The two-year graduation rate for transfers is currently at 55 percent. The four-year rate is 87 percent, compared to 84 percent for the six-year freshman graduation rate.

1 Comparison data on graduation rates for transfer students are not available. UC statistics give credit to the originating campus for inter-UC campus transfers.

Freshman retention rates are high, but there is room for some improvement.

3.2.1 Freshman first-year retention rates, Cohorts entering fall 2006 to 2012, UC and comparison institutions (NOTE SCALE)


Freshman first-year retention rates

Source: IPEDS1

Improving first-year retention is the first step to raising graduation rates. For some campuses, there is greater room for improvement; for others it is understanding subpopulations where there is room for improvement.

Studies of retention data divide students into two groups: those who leave UC in good academic standing (i.e., GPA ≥ 2.0) or transfer to another UC and those that leave in poor academic standing (i.e., < 2.0). The strategies needed to address retention vary based on this distinction. For students leaving in good academic standing, some UC campuses are considering expansion of honors programs or introduction of undergraduate research activity as early as the freshman year.  

For those leaving in poor academic standing, some UC campuses are using summer bridge or early orientation programs to provide a productive jump-start and smooth transition on campus. Other campuses are looking into housing and residential programs and cohort programs as another way to attach undergraduates to college.

1 Freshmen are first-time, full-time, degree-seeking students from the fall who enroll again in the next fall term.

Transfer retention rates are improving.

3.2.2 Transfer retention rates, Cohorts entering fall 2006 to 2013, UC campuses (NOTE SCALE)


Transfer retention rates

Source: UC Corporate Student System1

For transfers, there has been a slight improvement in first-year retention. Campuses vary in terms of whether transfers are more likely to leave in poor or good academic standing, and very few leave for another UC campus. Like entering freshmen, transfer students benefit from a productive start to UC campuses and a smooth transition during their first year. Several UC campuses are launching or expanding summer programs to support transfer students.

1 Comparison data are not available for transfer students.

Social Science, Life Sciences, and Arts and Humanities are the largest segments of bachelor’s degree recipients.

 3.3.1 Undergraduate degrees awarded by discipline, UC and comparison institutions, 2000–01 and 2012–13


Undergraduate degrees awarded by discipline, UC and comparison institutions

Source: IPEDS

Over one-third of all undergraduate degrees UC awarded in 2012–13 were in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, which is slightly higher than the proportion at AAU public and private comparison institutions. Indicator 10.2.4 shows UC’s share of the degrees awarded in the state of California.

Survey data suggest that graduating seniors' satisfaction with their overall academic experience has remained high over the last three UCUES survey administrations.

3.3.2 Student satisfaction with overall academic experience, Bachelor’s degree recipients who entered as freshmen, Universitywide and UC campuses, Spring 2010 to 2014


Student satisfaction with overall academic experience, Bachelor’s degree recipients who entered as freshmen, Universitywide and UC campuses

Source: UCUES

For the UC system overall and for most campuses, the percent of seniors who are satisfied (somewhat through very satisfied) has remained relatively stable.

Students report increasing levels of engagement in class and with faculty members. The most likely area of engagement is in class discussion, with about 98 percent of students reporting some level of participation. Almost 50 percent of students have worked with a faculty member on an activity other than coursework.

3.3.3 Student responses to questions about areas of engagement, Universitywide, Spring 2012 and spring 2014


Student responses to questions about areas of engagement, Universitywide

Source: UCUES

Levels of student engagement have been relatively stable over the last two surveys. About 84 percent of students report that they contribute to class discussions at least occasionally, and about 71 percent have occasionally or often gone beyond required coursework in a class they found interesting. Twenty-nine percent have worked with a faculty member on a research or creative project beyond coursework, at least occasionally.

Across disciplines, undergraduate degree recipients tend to double their earnings between two and ten years after graduation.

3.3.4 Inflation-adjusted average alumni wages by selected majors, two, five and ten years after graduation, UC Universitywide, 2000 to 2011 exit cohorts

After two years
After five years
After ten years
Arts & Humanities Philosophy
Foreign Language
Professional/ Interdisciplinary Cognitive Science
Ag. Business
Legal Studies
International Studies
Social Work
Life Sci, Phys Sci, Eng, CS Computer Science
Social Sciences Economics
Political Science
All Majors  


Source: California Employment Development Department and UC Corporate Student System. Amounts are inflation-adjusted to 2013 dollars.

Alumni wage data provide compelling evidence of UC’s role as an engine of social mobility in the state. From 2000 to 2013, UC graduated more than 200,000 Pell Grant recipients, whose family incomes are generally below $50,000. More than 50 percent of Pell Grant recipients that graduate from UC and work in California go on to earn more than their pre-UC family incomes within five years.

Bachelor's degree recipients work across diverse California industries, particularly health care, education, engineering and manufacturing.

3.3.5 Industry of employment of UC bachelor’s graduates by years after graduation, Universitywide, 2000 to 2011 graduating cohorts


Industry of employment of UC bachelor’s graduates by years after graduation, Universitywide

Source: California Employment Development Department and UC Corporate Student System.

Bachelor’s degree graduates often begin in positions within the retail and wholesale trade sectors but move on to high-skill industries such as education, health care, engineering and manufacturing.

A significant number of UC graduates go on to become educators within California’s K–12 and higher education systems. While about 4 percent of UC graduates work in the state’s K–12 education system directly after graduation, almost 10 percent go on to do so within ten years of receiving their UC degree.

UC graduates also populate the state’s health care workforce in large numbers. At ten years after graduation, about 12 percent of them are working in health care (31 percent among life sciences majors).

Large numbers of graduates of UC’s undergraduate STEM programs enter the state’s engineering and high-tech workforce. Close to 15 percent of UC engineering/computer science graduates employed in the state work in the Internet and computer systems industry, while another 12 percent work in the engineering services industry. The manufacturing sector has been a consistent source of employment for large numbers of UC engineering and physical science graduates.