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Student Achievement

Student Achievement at William & Mary

William & Mary’s mission describes the university as "A preeminent, public research university, grounded in the liberal arts and sciences ... William & Mary is a vibrant and inclusive community. Through close mentoring and collaboration, we inspire lifelong learning, generate new knowledge, and expand understanding.  ..." To evaluate success with respect to student achievement consistent with our mission, the university employs multiple measures, including retention and graduation rates, and passage rates on state licensing examinations. W&M also tracks post-graduate pursuits of our alumni.

We encourage you to contact our Assistant Provost for Institutional Accreditation & Effectiveness if you have questions or would like additional information about this website. The Assistant Provost serves as W&M’s Liaison to the university’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and can assist you in finding what you are looking for with respect to student achievement at W&M.

Measure of Success: Undergraduate Retention & Graduation

Our retention and graduation rates are excellent by any standard.  W&M expects to maintain a threshold of a 95% retention rate and 87% graduation rate.

The university’s retention rate (the percentage of first-year students who remain for their second year) has been consistently at 95% with a slight drop to 93% in 2020. William & Mary's graduation rate has been above 90%; most students who enroll as freshmen complete their degree within six years.

Among over 250 research universities included in the 2018 IPEDS Carnegie Classification group of doctoral universities with very high and high research activities, W&M is ranked 40th in its retention and 26th in its six-year graduation rate. Among the over 180 public institutions within this group, W&M is ranked third in graduation rates (August 2020) and 20th in retention rates.

In order to understand why some students start at W&M, but do not stay through graduation, the university has conducted exit interviews and analyzed data from the National Student Clearinghouse. Analyses indicate that most students who start at W&M as freshmen but do not graduate from the university transfer to other institutions. The reasons for transferring vary considerably (e.g., to pursue degrees not offered at W&M, location, health, and other personal reasons). 

Table 1 presents retention, graduation, and transfer out rates for first year students in cohorts who matriculated at W&M between 2006 and 2020 (Data source: IPEDS).

Table 1: Retention & Six-/Eight-Year Graduation Rates
Table of Retention & Six-/Eight-Year Graduation Rates
Cohort Retention Six-Year Graduation Six-Year Transfer Out Eight-Year Graduation
2006 96% 90% 8% 90%
2007 96% 90% 7% 91%
2008 95% 90% 8% 92%
2009 95% 90% 8% 91%
2010 95% 91% 7% 92%
2011 95% 92% 5% 93%
2012 96% 91% 6% 92%
2013 96% 90% 7% 91%
2014 95% 91% 6% ---
2015 95% 91% 6% ---
2016 95% --- --- ---
2017 95% --- --- ---
2018 95% --- --- ---
2019 95% --- --- ---
2020 93% --- --- ---

Diversity and equity in education are critical to W&M's mission and values.  The thresholds established for overall retention and graduation rates extend to student subgroups. For two groups, students of color and Pell recipients, graduation rates have historically been at 88%.  For the most recent graduating cohorts (2013, 2014), six-year graduation rates for students of color were 91% in 2019 and 90% in 2020.  For Pell recipients, the six-year graduation rate was 92% in 2019 and 88% in 2020.

Measure of Success: Graduate Degrees Awarded

Success at the graduate level is measured by degrees conferred. W&M submits projections of degrees conferred to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). Meeting projections within a 95% margin is considered an acceptable threshold by SCHEV and W&M. Table 2 presents the most recent target projections and success in reaching them.

Table 2: Graduate Degrees Conferred: 2020
Table with number of degrees conferred in 2020
Degree Level Target* Threshold Actual**
Master's 716 680 736
Doctoral 72 68 96
Professional 178 169 179

 *Source: Target - SCHEV 2b, Nov. 2019

**Source - SCHEV C01 (Completions)

Measure of Success: Licensing and Certification Examinations

As measures of student achievement, the School of Education and Law School monitor student performance on licensure and certification examinations with the goal of maintaining or improving scores over time. 

The School of Education tracks scores and pass rates on Virginia licensing exams.  The Law School tracks bar exam pass rates. Graduates sit for the bar exam in the state where they expect to practice law.  W&M law graduates choose to practice, and thus sit for the bar exam, in states throughout the country. 

Other Indicators of Student Achievement: Employment and Rankings

William & Mary collects next destination outcomes within six months of graduation for all undergraduates, with a knowledge rate (data from survey responses and reliable knowledge) of over 60%.  For the Class of 2021, the rate was 79%.  A summary of responses shows the breadth of post-graduate professional and educational pursuits of our most recent graduates. About 52% of recent graduates are employed full-time; 37% are enrolled in or planning to enroll in graduate or professional schools; 6% are employed part-time, 5% are looking for work.

The Arts & Sciences graduate programs post information on their graduates such as placements, publications, and PhD research (Anthropology, Applied Science, History, Physics). The School of Marine Science presents career pathways for graduates including snapshots of diverse areas where graduate alumni are employed.  

The Raymond A. Mason School of Business collects data on graduate business students who have received offers of employment by graduation and three months after graduation, type of industry, and compensation. For example, 95% of the 2022 full-time MBA Class seeking employment received job offers within three months of graduation with an average base salary of $110,910.

In the Law School, the Office of Career Services tracks and publicly reports employment data for the most recent graduating class at ten months after their graduation (March).  For the class of 2022, 210 of the 225 graduates were employed. 

As indicators of student achievement, the School of Education reports employment measures of its graduates, as well as other measures related to graduate impact and outcomes.  Impact measures include graduates' impact on student learning and development, graduates' effectiveness in teaching, graduates' performance, and satisfaction of graduates with their preparation.  Outcome measures include graduation rates, the ability of graduates to meet licensing requirements, the ability of graduates to be hired in the field in which they have been prepared, and student loan default rates. The School of Education also posts current positions and comments from their graduates.

Evidence of the quality of W&M’s academic programs is also provided by various rankings. Academic excellence and other key components of W&M’s mission are noted when, for example, U.S. News & World Report (2024) ranks the university 23rd among public universities in the nation, sixth among public universities for best undergraduate teaching, and 53rd overall among national universities.   Forbes (2023) ranks W&M as the 36th best state-supported school.  Specific programs also are ranked: Poets & Quants (2022) ranked W&M's Mason School of Business 15th among undergraduate business schools in the nation. U.S. News & World Report (2021) ranked the graduate program in U.S. Colonial History first and the History program 26th.