I have been seeing people on social media say that the college/university graduation rate of people with ADHD is around only 5%.

According to this Medscape article, ADHD: Recent Advances in Diagnosis and Treatment, by Lenard A. Adler and Julie Cohen:

For those who do go to college, those with ADHD have a lower college graduation rate (5% vs 35%).[7]

Obviously just reporting the 5% is dramatic because it doesn't put into perspective the non-ADHD crowd. But still one-seventh the rate is pretty drastic.

I couldn't access the source on the web-page, and had trouble finding reports that included graduation rates. this article has interesting information but doesn't seem to address the graduation rates. It also brings up an important point that are diagnosed-ADHD might not be representative of all people with ADHD.

So, is there evidence that people with ADHD actually graduate at one-seventh the level of those without (5%)?

Note: By graduation rate, I believe this claim is referring to (# graduated /# entered college). That still leaves their definition of what is considered ADHD and what is considered graduated (4 yrs? 6 yrs?; looking at just Bachelors degrees and not Associates?).

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    Personally, it seems off to me that the general graduation rate is only 35%...this states that the graduation rate is a more believably/in line with my observations 84% for the general population and 66% for students "with disabilities", which could admittedly contain less debilitating disabilities...note that I could not access your Medscape Article...
    – sharur
    Jun 26, 2019 at 23:19
  • I wonder if numbers didn't get conflated somehow -- ADHD affects about 5% of the population, and if 5% of college graduates have ADHD then that would indicate no effect on grad rate. Jun 27, 2019 at 2:11
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    @sharur: 84.6% is the high school graduation rate. Jun 27, 2019 at 4:18
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    For the US, there's some data here. Of those who entered a four-year college in 2010 (the most recent population in that data set), 40.6% graduated within 4 years and 59.8% within 6 years. Jun 27, 2019 at 4:30
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    @NateEldredge That was another aspect that I was unsure about: exactly what they mean by "graduation rate", if it's only restricted to 4 years grad rate, that could really alter the perception.
    – katatahito
    Jun 27, 2019 at 4:32

1 Answer 1


TL;DR The ratio of ADHD to non-ADHD college graduation rates is approximately true according to the cited source. The generalization from source to claim may not be accurate.

The Medscape article references a study it refers to as the "Milwaukee Young Adult Study" for the claim. In this early longitudinal study, 239 children (158 hyperactive1 and 81 control) around the Milwaukee, Wisconsin (US) area were surveyed for "cognitive, adaptive, family, peer, educational, occupational, financial, sexual, driving, and health-related variables" in childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, and young adulthood. The results of the study were not published in a single paper. Instead, many papers were published on this single study, focusing on specific aspects such as driving violations, drug use, or STD prevalence. The Milwaukee study was co-led by Russell A. Barkley.

Russell Barkley coauthored a book about ADHD that included the college education results of the Milwaukee study. Page 254 shows 9.1% of hyperactive young adults diagnosed with ADHD graduated from college. In contrast, 68.0% of the young adults in the control group graduated from college. These statistics are true for a small population of 239 children not representative of the US population surveyed when they were between 19—25 years old). I would assume 19 year olds cannot be expected to have graduated from college. Thus, there may be some systematic error introduced here.

While the absolute percentages in the Medscape article are incorrect, the relative ratios reflect the results of the study. The Medscape article lists graduation rates of 5% and 35% for the ADHD and control groups, respectively. Thus, people without ADHD graduated at a rate 7 times higher than that of people with ADHD. For the Milwaukee study, the ratios are very similar (different by ~1%).

How Medscape obtained their numbers: According to the US Census Bureau, 33.4% of Americans had a bachelor's degree (i.e. college degree) in 2017. Medscape rounded this number to the nice, whole number of 35%. To reflect the 7-times graduation rate of the control group, Medscape used 5% to represent the graduation rate of people with ADHD.

Do people with ADHD have a college graduation rate of 5%?

I couldn't find a study representative of the US population where people with ADHD had a college graduation rate of 5%. The Milwaukee study is the second largest I could find. Another large study with 352 participants, the UMASS study, found people with ADHD were half as likely to graduate when compared to a control group without ADHD (page 252 here). Then, instead of 5% vs. 35%, we would see 17.5% vs. 35%.

Is there evidence that people with ADHD actually graduate at one-seventh the level of those without (5%)?

According to the Milwaukee study, people with ADHD were 7 times less likely to graduate from college. Therefore, there is evidence for this.

From Medscape: "For those who do go to college, those with ADHD have a lower college graduation rate (5% vs 35%)."

Yes, this is true according to this one study.

1 I purposefully use the term "hyperactive" because some of the children in this group were not officially diagnosed with ADHD. Thankfully, the study separately analyzed the children in the hyperactive group with ADHD and the children in the hyperactive group without ADHD.

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    I think there is a difference between "% of people who graduated" and "% of people that enrolled who graduated [in how many year?]". The rates you quote (9.1 vs. 68) is phrased as the first - (# that graduated/total hyperactive) , and not the second (# that graduated/# of hyperactive that enrolled in college). The quote from my question is talking about those that specifically started college.
    – katatahito
    Jun 28, 2019 at 6:55
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    .. If it is the case that it is describing the second situation, then I think changing the wording to reflect that would help. If not, then we are still comparing apples to oranges. Obviously a person who never enters college will never graduate
    – katatahito
    Jun 28, 2019 at 6:56
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    I'll add this point to my question too
    – katatahito
    Jun 28, 2019 at 6:58
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – katatahito
    Jun 28, 2019 at 7:09
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    @Oddthinking I'm sorry about that. I have edited that out. I will undelete the answer when you tell me it's OK. I am not trying to prevent others from editing this answer. Edit: Cannot delete accepted answers... Jul 1, 2019 at 20:25

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