President's Blog

White House college ratings and Mason’s impact

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan paid us a visit today as part of his college value and affordability listening tour.  College access has become one of President Obama’s top policy priorities, and even the First Lady has picked it up as one of her central issues.  The proposed policies will try to influence college actions by focusing on outcomes and tying funding to performance.  While much will be discussed about the specific ratings and metrics to be used (and it’s clear that any choice of measures will necessarily carry some unintended side effects), I for one welcome this emphasis on outcomes (rather than inputs) and the true value colleges create for students. And it does not hurt that, when you look at outcomes, universities like George Mason shine.

While the debate unfolds, here’s a sample of data collected by my colleagues that illustrates George Mason University’s outcomes and impact.

Enrollment and Student Populations

The largest institution in the Commonwealth, with 33,917 enrolled in the Fall of 2013; 80.3% in-state, 40% minority students of those reporting their race/ethnicity, 21,324 degree-seeking undergraduates, 5,888 undergraduates residing on campus, 135 graduate students residing on campus.

27% of Mason students receive Pell grants, and 56.4% receive need-based financial aid, the same proportion that graduate with some debt.  Mason graduates average student loan debt is just over $25,822, which is less than the average of $26,279 for U.S. News National Universities.  In addition, Mason’s default rate is just 1.3% significantly below both the national average of 6.8%.

Mason is a leader in educating Virginians and the plan is to continue to serve the Commonwealth both in serving traditional freshmen as well as community college transfers and degree completers. Mason enrolled 3,011 new freshmen in the fall of 2013, the largest freshman class in Mason history, and 2,547 new transfer students, representing 44.9% of new degree-seeking undergraduate students. Of the new transfers, 1,969 (77%) came from the Virginia Community College System and other public 2-year colleges.

Financial aid disbursements to George Mason students increased by14.6% from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013 with 18,617 students receiving aid in 2012-13. The majority of this aid was in the form of loans.

There are approximately 2,785 students affiliated with the military (includes veterans, active-duty, dependents, reservists and guardsmen).

Over the last five years, George Mason has seen a shift in distribution of students by geographic location. The proportion of students from Northern Virginia has decreased from 69.2% to 66.3%; Other Virginia has increased from 13.7% to 14.5%; and the proportion of Out-of-State increased from 17.2% to 19.2%.

More than 80% percent of degree-seeking undergraduate students attend full time. (80.7% actual)

Mason’s six-year graduation rate for the most recent cohort is 66.7%, an increase of 3 percentage points over the last five years.

Over the past 5 years, enrollment in STEM degree programs has grown by 28%. Doctoral student enrollment in STEM is 42%.  In addition, within the same five-year period, enrollment in Health Science fields grew by 13%.

Degrees and Awards

Mason awarded 8,698 degrees and 261 post-baccalaureate certificates in 2012-2013. Of these, one third were awarded to racial and ethnic minorities. If we calculate the percentage including only those students who identified their racial/ethnic identify, 37% were from a minority group.

In the last 10 years, the high school GPA of entering freshmen has improved from 3.31 to 3.66.  In the same period, the average SAT score has improved from 1103 to 1153 and the retention rate has improved from 82.2% to 86.3%.

The Education Trust has recognized Mason as one of only a handful of institutions in the nation which have little to no difference in graduation rates between African American and Hispanic students and white students.

153,628 living alumni with 99,868 living in Virginia.


Mason’s educational costs per student are about 61% of its peer institutions.

According to SCHEV Wage Data, Mason graduates who remain in the Commonwealth earn higher average salaries than those of any other public institution in the state while also having a lower “cost to degree” than most. ranks Mason 149 out of 1,511 institutions on their 30-year net return on investment.

The in-state tuition rate at Mason covers roughly 43% of the average cost of education.

Mason is significantly less expensive for in-state students than any other doctoral institution in the Commonwealth, despite its location in one of the most expensive regions.

Since FY 2011 Mason has reduced operating costs by more than $19 million and reallocated those funds to high priority program needs, while returning approximately $81 million in bond authority to the Commonwealth, in total implementing $100 million in budget efficiencies and cost control measures.

Mason exceeds SCHEV guidelines for classroom and class lab utilization, and its Fairfax campus has some of the highest utilization rates in the Commonwealth.

Economic Impact

6,294 employees on three campuses, of these 2,536 are teaching/research faculty

An additional 3,000+ are temporary or wage employees, including student wage employees

The University’s presence supports 11,618 FTE employees in the region (econ development report) and contributed $1.14 Billion dollars in FY12.  Statewide, the economic impact is $1.56 Billion and a total of 16,023 jobs.

The Mason Enterprise Centers with four locations in Northern Va support more than 20,000 entrepreneurs each year as they start and expand businesses.  Estimates are that their services helped to create or retain more than 10,000 jobs in the state in 2011.  In addition, a survey of MEC clients found that between 2011 and 2012, these businesses increased their employment by 44 % and their revenues by 30%.