Davidson college identifies, evaluates, and publishes goals and outcomes for student achievement appropriate to its mission as a residential liberal arts college offering baccalaureate programs to full-time and traditional-aged students.

The College has identified multiple measures to document student success including  graduation rate, medical school acceptance, post-baccalaureate education, and employment in career-related fields. The reasons for including these measures, the targets or benchmarks that define achievement, and data showing evidence of achievement are explained below. 

Graduation Rates

Graduation rate is a critical measure for Davidson College.  It provides evidence of the thoughtful recruitment of each entering class, the appropriateness of both academic challenge and academic support, and the fit between all aspects of students’ lives—in the classroom, the residence hall, the athletic field, and student activity offices—while at Davidson. As such, even though Davidson College has an exceptional graduation rate that has remained steady in the face of changing demographics, academic offerings, and economic conditions, it is never taken for granted. It is monitored carefully, and information is collected and assessed annually on the small number of students who withdraw, transfer, or do not graduate with their incoming class.  Those numbers are too small for statistical trends, but each case contributes to a better understanding of the ways students experience the College.

Davidson sets targets for four graduation rate statistics: the six-year graduation rate for all students, the six years graduation rate compared to the four-year graduation rate, the six-year graduation rates for students of color compared to six-year graduation rate for all students, and the six-year graduation rate for athletes.

Six-year graduation rate for all students. 

To set the target for the six-year graduation rate for all students, the College looks to its peer group of 20 highly selective private liberal arts colleges for the norm. Recognizing that enrollments at colleges of this type are small enough that percentages are disproportionately affected by individual withdrawals, Davidson College’s target is to remain within two percentage points of the five-year average for our peer group’s six-year graduation rate which 91.2% for the entering fall cohorts from Fall 2010 to Fall 2014, the most recent year data for which peer data is available). Davidson has met that target for each of the past six years, as shown in Table 8.1.1 below.

Four-year graduation rate for all students. 

Davidson focuses on the six-year graduation rate as the norm, as do most baccalaureate colleges. There are numerous and legitimate reasons a student may take an extra semester or two to complete a degree. Most Davidson students do, in fact, graduate at four years and virtually all who graduate will do so within five years. Still, the College is mindful of that four-year rate and has set a target for it to remain within five percentage points of the six-year rate. That target has been met for each of the past six years as well, as shown in Table 8.1.1.

Table 8.1.1.

Graduation Rates for First-Year Students Entering Fall 2010-2015 with Peer Group Comparison

Enter Fall Semester 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
4-year graduation rate 91% 88% 90% 87% 89% 86%
6-year graduation rate            
   All Students 95% 91% 90% 91% 93% 90%
   Students of Color 92% 89% 84% 92% 93% 92%
   Student Athletes 92% 92% 93% 91% 91% 93%
Peer Group 6-year graduation rate* 92% 91% 91% 91% 91% N/A

*Source: IPEDS, Fall 2014 cohort is most recent year available

Six-year graduation rate for students of color.

Davidson College understands that cultivating a broadly diverse community is crucial to our educational mission and to our foundational commitment to leadership and service. The College seeks talented students from diverse cultures, ethnicities, races, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, ages, national origins, socio-economic backgrounds, and abilities. The College understands that students of color have historically been excluded from and marginalized in institutions of higher education. Therefore, the College monitors the six-year graduation rate of students of color and has established the goal for that rate to be within two percentage points of the rate for all students in each cohort. This target has been met for four of the last six years, though the College has met or exceeded that target for the last three years, as shown in Table 8.1.1.

Six-year graduation rate for student athletes.

Davidson is distinctive among its peers in playing Division I for its 21 intercollegiate sports. However, there is no unique graduation rate target for student athletes. The graduation rate of student athletes is expected to mirror the graduation rate of their non-athlete classmates. In order to account for athletes who transfer into or out of colleges, and toward whom colleges have a continuing responsibility, the NCAA calculates a Student Athlete Graduation Success Rate. Davidson’s goal is to have the Student Graduation Success rate remain at or above the six-year graduation rate for all students. That target was met for four of the last six years, as shown in Table 8.1.1

Medical School Acceptance Rate

Davidson has a long history of successful preparation for medical school, and this success is reflected in the high proportion of entering students who indicate an interest in medical fields (22% at Davidson compared to 19% at similar schools, according to the 2019 Cooperative Institutional Research Program Freshman Survey Report. Therefore, acceptance rates to medical school are included among measures of student achievement.

The target for acceptance rates to medical school was set by looking at the national acceptance rates and the variance year to year for Davidson acceptance rates, recognizing that a number of factors external to Davidson may influence how competitive medical school admissions are for the particular schools in which Davidson students are most interested. The College tracks medical school acceptance rates in each application cycle, which includes current students and alumni who are applying to medical schools. Between 2018 and 2022, the Davidson median acceptance rate was 61%. The national average during that same period was 39%. Davidson’s target is and will remain our median 61%, assessed on a rolling five-year basis, and will be adjusted proportionately if the national average acceptance rate changes by more than five percent for at least three years. As demonstrated in Table 8.1.2 below, Davidson’s medical school acceptance rate was at or above target for three of the past five years. Though Davidson’s medical school acceptance rate was below target for the 2019 and 2020 application cycles, the rate has been trending upward since that time even as the national acceptance rate is declining.

Table 8.1.2.

Medical School Acceptance Rates for Davidson College compared to National Rates by Application Cycle, 2018-2022

Application Cycle 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Davidson College Acceptance Rate 62% 59% 57% 61% 62%
National Acceptance Rate* 43% 41% 41% 38% 34%

*Source: American Association of Medical College Application Service

Baccalaureate Origin For PhD

Many academic departments at Davidson include preparing students for graduate programs, especially those offering the PhD, among their departmental goals. Further, the College’s student research initiatives enable students to pursue research interests with faculty and in collaboration with other students, providing valuable experience that serves as a solid foundation on which to begin their doctoral studies. Therefore, earned doctorates are included among our measures of student achievement.

​​The National Science Foundation provides data each year on completed doctorates. Its database system allows analysis by baccalaureate institutions across all fields. Weighted by baccalaureate completion, Davidson targets placement within the top 60 institutions for a rolling ten-year total. The target has been exceeded in each of the most recent five data collection time periods during which Davidson ranked, as shown below in Table 8.1.3. At the time of Davidson’s reaffirmation of accreditation in 2017, the College’s target was to achieve a top 75 ranking. The college modified the target to top 60 because the College exceeded that target consistently over the past five years. The College will consider again adjusting the target to a top 50 ranking by 2025 since a ranking of 50 was achieved in the period beginning in 2009 and ending in 2019.

Table 8.1.3. 

Davidson Rank on Earned Doctorates Weighted by Baccalaureate Completions by Ten-Year Period (Source: National Science Foundation)

Ten-Year Period 2006-2016 2007-2017 2008-2018 2009-2019 2010-2020
Davidson College Ranking 55 53 53 50 52

Employment In Career-Related Fields And Continuing Education 

Davidson considers preparation for life beyond graduation to be a significant part of its mission, and the form that life most often takes is related to the careers its graduates pursue. Therefore, employment within six months of graduation, including related internships and fellowships, or further preparation for it as evidenced by the pursuit of graduate degrees, are counted among measures of student achievement. The College uses, through the Betty and B. Frank Matthews II ‘49 Center for Career Development (Matthews Center), a Senior Survey that includes extensive follow-up, resulting in information on better than 90% of graduates each year. This survey provides the College with useful and accurate data about the nature of students’ first experiences upon graduating.

Given the nature of a liberal arts college and Davidson’s mission to prepare students for a wide range of options after graduation, there are no separate targets for employment or further education. Both are viable options for the recent graduate and their distribution may reasonably vary from year to year. Rather, the focus is on the aggregate percentage across them with a target of 90% (based on the most recent 10-year average) of respondents who are employed in career-related fields or continuing their education, including fellowships. In Table 8.1.4 below, the most recent five years of survey results indicate that Davidson has met that target every year, even in years when college graduates nationwide faced a difficult and competitive job market, such as May 2020 graduates who searched for employment in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That so many graduates were engaged in relevant and rewarding enterprises reflects well on their Davidson preparation. That such a diversity of opportunities was available to them reflects well on the liberal arts. The class of 2021 can be found working in industries ranging from business to the arts, pursuing a wide range of graduate degrees, and living around the country and around the world.

Table 8.1.4.

Post-Davidson Activity Within Six Months of Graduation, Classes of 2017-2021

Graduating Class Year 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
TOTAL employed/pursuing education 95.2% 93.5% 94.4% 91.1% 94.8%
   Employed in career-related field/internship/fellowship 75.3% 73.7% 76.4% 66.0% 68.8%
   Pursuing education 19.9% 19.8% 18.0% 25.1% 26.0%
Other (e.g., planned time off, applying to graduate school) 0.9% 2.6% 1.5% 4.1% 1.3%
Still seeking 3.9% 4.5% 4.1% 4.8% 3.9%


The mission of a liberal arts college does not lend itself to some of the more straightforward metrics such as job placement or licensing in a one-to-one fashion; a student’s academic major does not necessarily equal a particular form of employment. Nevertheless, it is important that the College discharge its responsibility to its students consistent with that mission and develop metrics that assess success. The College has set targets that are ambitious but reachable, and the success rate is excellent. As part of the regular reviews of those targets, it is important to remain mindful of where they might be set higher.