The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s mission emphasizes its strong commitment to preparing students to become “the next generation of leaders.” Supporting student achievement is at the heart of the University’s strategic priorities.

student achievement goals success

Goals for student success have been outlined in the 2011 Academic Plan, recommended by working groups such as the 21st Century Vision Committee and adopted in response to UNC System accountability requirements.

More recently, a working group supporting Thrive@Carolina, a University-wide initiative to help students succeed at UNC-Chapel Hill and beyond, has been engaged in reviewing data, and establishing thresholds and new goals for undergraduate student achievement.

The University also assesses graduate and professional student achievement in relation to goals using time to degree and performance on licensure examinations.

For the metrics shown below, the “target” is the performance level the University has committed to maintaining or achieving by a certain year. The “threshold” (where applicable) is the minimum acceptable performance level below which the University would take action to investigate or intervene to improve student performance.

First-to-Second Year Retention

UNC-Chapel Hill is one of the nation’s top public institutions in the percentage of first-year undergraduate students who return for their second year of study, consistently achieving its target of 97% for each entering cohort.

 Returned for Year 2
2016 First-Year Cohort95%97%97%

Source: UNC Student Data Mart, Fall 2017 Census

Graduation Rates

All First-Year Entering Students

Over the past decade, enhanced academic support services have contributed to significant increases in graduation rates. UNC-Chapel Hill’s four-year graduation rate is second only to the University of Virginia’s among elite public research institutions. The targets below were approved by the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost on the recommendation of the Thrive@Carolina working group.

 ThresholdActualTarget for 2024
Four-Year Graduation Rate: 2013 First-Year Cohort80%84%92%
Six-Year Graduation Rate: 2011 First-Year Cohort89%91%95%

Source: UNC Student Data Mart, Fall 2017 Census

Transfer Students

Improving the four-year graduation rate for transfer students from the level posted by the base year 2008 entering cohort to 80% over the next decade was another goal set out in the 2011 Academic Plan. As seen below, the target has already been met for sophomore transfers in the 2013 entering cohort, and the junior transfer graduation rates continue to improve.

 2009 Entering Cohort2014 Entering CohortTarget for 2021
Sophomores (after 3 years)70%75%80%
Juniors (after 2 years)66%68%80%

Source: IPEDS, UNC Data Mart Completions (Summer II 2016; Fall 2017; Spring 2018)

Low Income and First Generation Students

Removing graduation rate disparities of low income and first generation students when compared to the graduation rates of other members of their cohorts was an important priority of the 2011 Academic Plan. UNC-Chapel Hill is making steady progress in reducing these gaps through support programs such as the Carolina Covenant for students from low income families and the Carolina Firsts for students who will be the first in their families to receive a four-year degree.

By Family Income StatusBy Parent Education StatusTarget for 2022
Pell Grant RecipientNot Pell Grant RecipientGap1st GenerationNot 1st GenerationGap
Four-Year Graduation Rate: 2013 First-Year Cohort80%85%-5%81%85%-4%90%
Six-Year Graduation Rate: 2011 First-Year Cohort87%92%-5%84%92%-8%95%

Source: IPEDS, UNC Data Mart Completions (Summer II 2016; Fall 2016; Spring 2017)

Engagement in High Impact Learning Activities

Ensuring that all students will have a transformative academic experience at UNC-Chapel Hill is one of highest priorities identified in the 2011 Academic Plan. This goal is achieved by engaging students in academic and co-curricular activities that challenge them to connect their classroom learning with the problems of society and to prepare for citizenship in an increasingly global economy. Thresholds and goals for graduates who complete these “high impact” learning activities are as follows:

 Threshold2015-16 Graduates Target for 2024
Taken research intensive course60%63%68%
Taken a first year seminar50%52%57%
Studied abroad or participated in other international experiences35%40%45%
Taken a service learning course35%40%45%

Sources: Research-Intensive Courses: College of Arts and Sciences; Campus Solutions

Prestigious Awards

The academic and co-curricular achievements of UNC-Chapel Hill students have been recognized with a number of prestigious scholarships and awards over time, including the following:

Rhodes Scholarship49
Goldwater Scholarship47
Luce Scholars Program 38
Truman Scholarship30
Marshall Scholarship 17
Churchill Scholarship 17
Udall Scholarship15
Boren Fellowship14

Source: Office of Distinguished Scholarships (September 1, 2017)

Alumni Success

UNC-Chapel Hill alumni surveyed six months after receiving their bachelor’s degrees in 2016 reported their status as shown below. The ongoing target is for 90% of degree recipients to be employed full-time or pursuing graduate or professional studies.

Employed full-time72%
Pursuing graduate or professional studies22%
Seeking employment or pursuing other interests4%
Not Seeking Employment/Taking Time Off1%

Source: University Career Services, based on survey responses from 2,430 of the 3,722 May 2016 bachelor’s degree recipients (65% response rate). See the detailed report.

Graduate Student Achievement Measures

Doctoral Degree Recipients: Median Years to Degree

Social Sciences6.2
Humanities and Fine Arts5.9
Basic and Applied Sciences5.3
Health Affairs5.3
Professional Schools-Academic Affairs4.9
Public Health4.9



Note: This represents time-to-degree from the student’s first enrollment as a doctoral student in his/her graduate program. Rolling five year median shown for each year represents the median of the year indicated and the previous 4 years.

Source: The Graduate School, UNC-Chapel Hill

Professional Student Performance on Licensure Examinations

Nearly all of the professional schools at UNC-Chapel Hill prepare graduates for professional practice requiring licensure or certification examinations. A complete report of trends in those examination results, the minimum thresholds for acceptability, and the targets established for passing rates or benchmarking using national norms is available upon request. Please email the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment to receive a copy of the report.