A new study that takes an unusual look at U.S. colleges’ academic success by measuring “better than expected” graduation rates puts Michigan’s Ferris State University near the top of the list.

Ferris State, located in Big Rapids, south of Cadillac, ranks in the top 15 nationwide based on the report released by the Urban Institute and the New York Times. Ferris State’s grad rate is expected to hover around 60 percent, according to the research, but the actual rate is 65 percent.

“In many ways, we punch above our weight,” said David Eisler, president of the university since 2003. “Our university was created around the concept of opportunity and we work very hard to help our students.”

The detailed study made an apples-to-apples comparison of schools by looking at student demographics that substantially determine college completion: Race, gender, age, family income, SAT test scores and other data. They came up with “expected graduation rates” vs. actual grad statistics for nearly 400 universities and colleges across the nation.

Ferris State was the only school in Michigan on the top 15 list and one of only four in the Midwest. The others were the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University and the University of Wisconson at Eau Claire.

The report found that some schools across the U.S., especially those that lack a school completion emphasis, have grad rates that fall 25 to 30 points below where they should be. The research measured students’ graduation levels after six years, not the traditional four.

Among several Michigan universities that scored poorly, ranging from Wayne State to Saginaw Valley, graduation rates were down near 50 percent.

Because the study measured statistics at so many schools, including some small colleges, Ferris state was placed in the “large school” category, meaning it has an incoming freshmen class each year of more than 2,000 students.