Best, worst private college grad rates by state

Graduation caps thrown in the air
Graduation caps thrown in the air

(Moneywatch) As my last post shows, thegraduation rates for the country's state universities vary a lot. But also curious is how dramatically grad rates vary among private schools.

Massachusetts wins the honors as the state with the highest graduation rate among private universities, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. Nearly 76 percent of students attending private schools in Massachusetts graduate within six years. And the cellar? That's occupied by Alaska, with an appalling 26.5 percent grad rate among private schools in the state:

States with the highest six-year grad rates among private schools

1. Massachusetts, 75.7 percent
2. Connecticut, 75.2 percent
3. Maryland, 73.5 percent
4. California, 72.9 percent
4. Rhode Island, 72.9 percent (tie)
6. Pennsylvania, 72.6 percent
7. Washington, 71.4 percent
8. Indiana, 69.3 percent
9. New York, 68.5 percent
10. Vermont, 67.3 percent

States with the lowest six-year grad rates among private schools

1. Alaska, 26.5 percent
2. Nevada, 33.8 percent
3. Delaware, 36.3 percent
4. Hawaii, 43.0 percent
5. Kansas, 44.1 percent
6. North Dakota, 44.8 percent
7. Alabama, 45.0 percent
8. Mississippi, 48.2 percent
9. South Carolina, 50.4 percent
10. Oklahoma, 50.7 percent

Why the disparity?

It's not surprising that students at schools in states with a number of highly selective private universities are more likely to graduate. Massachusetts, for instance, is home to such stellar institutions as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as Wellesley and Amherst colleges. Connecticut is home to Yale and Trinity and Connecticut colleges.

20 states with the best and worst college grad rates

In general, states with lower grad rates have fewer private colleges and universities. For instance, there are only two four-year private colleges in Alaska -- Alaska Bible College and Alaska Pacific University. Nevada only has three.

Yet while private colleges and universities often have higher graduation rates than do state institutions, it's not a given. When evaluating any school, public or private, check out its grad rates at College Results Online.