Richard Greo considered a lot of things when he chose to go to the University of Bridgeport four years ago, but graduation rates wasn’t one of them.

The school was close to home. It had the criminal justice major he wanted.

Now in his last year, the Bridgeport resident said he remains on track to collect a diploma in May.

A new report suggests he may be one of the lucky ones.

“Less For More,” a report on college completion rates and cost by a group called Education Reform Now CT, is warning families to pay closer attention to high drop-out rates and cost when it comes to selecting a college. The group argues students at universities with high costs and low graduation rates are often left saddled with student loans after they drop out, with no degree to help them pay off that debt.

“We are saying every student who applies to college is a consumer and should know exactly what they are getting into,” said Amy Dowell, state director of the Westport-based affiliate to a national nonprofit. “Too many Connecticut students are simply not set up for success. Connecticut can and should do better by its students.”

The report specifically points a finger at UB, Western Connecticut State University in Danbury and Mitchell College in New London for consistently graduating fewer than 50 percent of students within six years of initial enrollment.

While nationally 60 percent of students who entered as first-time freshmen in 2011 had graduated by 2017, those three universities had six-year graduation rates between 40.8 percent and 44.3 percent, with Mitchell College registering the lowest and Western the highest.

The report also calls out Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, Eastern in Willimantic and Central in New Britain, along with the University of Hartford, for graduation rates below 50 percent for first-time, full-time minority students.

University officials at UB, Western and Southern called the report’s conclusions unfair.

They argued it doesn’t account for the fact that not all students take a linear path through college. Officials also noted that some of the data used is outdated and doesn’t take into account new programs introduced and strides made in increasing graduation rates over the last few years.

Western spokesman Paul Steinmetz said the report uses accurate numbers to make unfair comparisons.

“The report makes it sound like we don’t care about low-income students, and that is absolutely not true,” said Steinmetz.

A full dozen colleges — nearly half in the state — are called to task for having “exceptionally high” net prices for low-income students that are significantly higher than peer institutions that serve similar student populations.

The report also compared completion rates to peer institutions — schools that an algorithm said were of similar size, admission standards and student bodies.

Even Yale University in New Haven made that list — despite having a 90 percent completion rate — because it reportedly charged low-income students an average of $5,171 in 2016. By comparison, the University of Chicago, which the report lists as a peer institution to Yale based on size and the type of students admitted, charged $2,551.

“We certainly aren’t recommending people not go to Yale,” Dowell said.

Rather, she said the report, based on numbers supplied by the colleges to the federal government, is meant to be a catalyst for getting K-12 schools, colleges and lawmakers to do more to better the odds.

Students who enter college better prepared are more likely to do well and graduate, Dowell said. She hopes to see K-12 schools beef up literacy and math programs, colleges strengthen counseling programs, and legislators pass laws to improve the chances that more students get degrees needed for good-paying jobs.

“It’s about helping families make the best decision,” Dowell said. “When we ask young people to take on debt without even earning the credentials that will allow for paying it off — that also has a compounding effect on our state economy.”

Steinmetz, from Western, said the data Education Reform Now CT used is flawed because it doesn’t take into account students who take a year off after starting at universities like Western but do return and eventually get their degree.

“We are a good institution for low-income students,” Steinmetz said. “A state university like ours has kids come in, go for a year and then leave to make money before coming back.”

That many ultimately graduate doesn’t count for purposes of the study.

Steinmetz questioned some of Western’s “peers” as well. Western Oregon and University of Nebraska at Kearney are bound to have a lower cost of living than Fairfield County, he said.

Susan Andrews, a UB spokeswoman, suggests the report uses data that no longer reflects the UB of today.

Under a new president, Andrews said UB has an increased focus on student access and affordability and made new investments in support services designed to help students succeed.

“This year, average net tuition paid by students is $12,713, which is significantly lower than $22,361 in 2016,” Andrews added. This reduction is due to more institutional aid, new initiatives to wrap textbook costs into tuition and a dual enrollment program to allow more than 400 students a chance to earn college credits while still in high school.

The retention rate — the number of students who return one year to the next — is now at 71 percent, up from 51 percent in 2016 at UB. And the graduation rate is 42 percent, up from 28 percent in 2016.

“The report, while well intentioned, obscures rather than reveals,” Andrews said. “UB is an urban-serving university and enrolls students who value flexibility and pathway management. Some students take longer to graduate due to work and family obligations. We recognize and celebrate their success whether or not they are reflected in (federal) data.”

At Southern — faulted for a six-year graduation rate for minority students of 43.5 percent in 2017 — there is an ongoing focus on retention and graduation rates, said spokesman Pat Dilger.

This semester, a three-point plan was introduced to smooth the application pathway for transfer students; create greater flexibility in curriculum and scheduling, and help students overcome financial challenges.

Southern has added advisers, has new academic advising centers across campus, and works with area high schools and community colleges to prepare students to be successful at a four-year institution, the university official said.

The report only looked at 22 of the 27 four-year colleges in the state. For institutions left out — like Post College in Waterbury and Charter Oak, the state’s online degree program — there was not enough comparative data, Dowell said.

Dowell said most University of Connecticut campuses, including the one in Stamford, fared well in the study. So did Fairfield University, Wesleyan in Middletown, and Trinity in Hartford.

Dowell said lawmakers would do well to start by looking at those schools in crafting solutions.

State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, co-chair of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, called the report sobering.

“We need to do better by all of our students, but especially ones who are starting out with the deck stacked against them,” he said.

“Last year, we took focus at finding ways to provide students with lower-cost ways of achieving success in higher education through free community college and debt relief after college,” Haskell said. “That’s a start, but it doesn’t address all of the challenges we’re seeing.”

The legislator, whose district stretches into Ridgefield, Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Weston, and Wilton, said he will meet with other members of the higher education committee to look for other ways to help.

Greo, meanwhile, said he got an amazing financial aid package to attend UB. He thought about transferring at the end of his freshman year to go to a college better known for criminal justicebut then got a student leadership position on campus that changed his mind.

He has had friends who did drop out.

“A lot of these people ... did not have the help and or the guidance to continue,” he said. “I am a firm believer that on any campus, resources are available, and us as students have to go out and look for them.”

Good professors also count, Greo said.

“Relationships go a long way and they are essential for students in college, especially for first gen students like myself,” he said.

Connecticut Media Group