Report details ways to increase number of students graduating in 6 years

ABy Jens Manuel Krogstad A federal government report released last week offers suggestions on how to increase the number of students that graduate within six years.

The report, compiled by the U.S. General Accounting Office, also urges the Department of Education to consider a variety of measures to determine postsecondary performance outside of graduation rates.

The report found that six-year graduation rates – which average approximately 59 percent nationwide – decrease for first-generation students, blacks, people who work 20 or more hours per week and transfer students. Students with rigorous high school classes, good grades and continuous enrollment were more likely to graduate within six years.

The accounting office, which provides analyses, recommendations and other assistance to Congress, completed the report in anticipation of possible changes to the Higher Education Act to be discussed next year, vice provost for undergraduate education Craig Swan said.

“There are members of Congress who feel they should pay more attention to graduation rates,” Swan said.

The University has a history of below-average graduation rates. Of first-year students in 1996, 27 percent graduated in four years. Fifty percent graduated within six years, which is the lowest percentage for any Big Ten school.

“The biggest challenge is going for a culture change – that graduation should be a goal,” Swan said.

All of the report’s suggested measures to improve graduation rates are in place at the University or will be implemented soon.

The school hopes to increase four-year graduation rates to 50 percent by 2014.

The University’s first step toward increasing expectations was to require new students to register for 13 credits, and to set 13 credits as the minimum full-time course load for all students, Swan said.

In addition, the University began sending “midterm alerts” via e-mail to students who had a grade of C- or lower last year.

Swan said financial assistance is essential to increasing graduation rates, but scholarship funding might be reduced because of budget deficits.

Not all students in categories that statistically have trouble graduating are struggling.

Third-year electrical engineering student Arthur Obiadazie, who is black and works 25 hours a week – two of the characteristics mentioned in the report – said he is on schedule to graduate in four years.

“It’s pretty easy for me,” he said.

Swan said sustaining advising resources is also a priority to the University.

The Board of Regents responded to years of student complaints last year by increasing its budget for advising, student regent representative Jake Elo said.

A lack of advisers was something that was hurting many University students, Elo said. Some students he talked to received poor advice, and in worst-case scenarios, it delayed their graduation, he said.

The University is providing more accessibility to advisers and more Web-based resources with the increased funding, Swan said.

The report also states that graduation rates are not the only way to measure a school’s success.

Some schools, such as community colleges, do not have high graduation rates because they serve different types of students than four-year institutions, the report said.

Swan said the University has long had goals outside of graduating students, including research and service to the state.

Jens Manuel Krogstad covers student life and welcomes comments at [email protected]