The back to school season for college students has arrived.  Millions are putting the finishing touches on their financial plans, clothing, dorm room gear, texts, subscriptions and electronics.  It may be too late to adjust the choice of school, but it’s not too late to research which college might offer a better chance of graduating.

There are plenty of factors that have no relevance in graduation; attendance at a selective school, game tickets at a school with a great football record, or outstanding amenities.  Some say that the choice of undergraduate school matters little to a career, especially 10 years after graduation.  Others claim that the best party school is the best school.

Luxurious resort items such as individual cottages, equestrian trails, on-campus pubs, palatial theaters, and valet parking may lure new students. None of that folderol improves the odds of graduation.  Tuition level could have a smidgen of impact on a student’s graduation, but only if the tuition is focused onto academic rehabilitation of the student.

A recent study reveals which factors (beyond the student’s innate ability) have the greatest impact on the probability of graduating.  Colleges “with a higher low-income student population, or [students] who might not be as prepared for college – will typically have lower graduation rates than ones with wealthier, more academically prepared students.” In short, the likelihood of graduation is about the students who go there, not about other attributes of the college.

When choosing among schools, the prospective student should focus on the schools’ graduation rates, since those are the best predictor of graduation likelihood.

Fortunately, there has been a leap forward in availability of accurate graduation statistics.  Student Achievement Measure (SAM) has begun the tedious hard work of compiling accurate undergraduate statistics for colleges, both 2-year and 4-year schools.  SAM collects the data from its hundreds of member institutions.  What makes SAM so unusually valuable is that it captures information on both transfers-in and transfers-out.  Transfer data can be useful in obtaining a more complete picture of the school’s enrollment and graduation rates.

Other data pools have not succeeded in that.  SAM thus produces far more comprehensive graduation rates for 4, 5, and 6-year lengths of enrollment.  SAM even reveals the fraction of student whose status is “unknown” and the percentage of students still laboring in their academic program after 6 years (like Bluto Blutarsky).

A college’s graduation rate may not be the only factor when selecting a school, but it should be a significant factor for any serious student.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research