U graduate rates increase, short of expectations

The University has taken measures to significantly improve the rates.

by Karlee Weinmann

Graduation rates are on the upswing, but there is still a significant difference between current rates and goals set by University officials.

Last week, the University announced an increase in four-, five- and six-year graduation rates, marking benefits reaped by measures implemented to accomplish this.

In 2006, the four-year rate was 40.7 percent, the five-year rate was 57.9 percent and the six-year rate was 60.8 percent.

But this is still below what University officials expect.

In October, the University announced its ideal graduation rates. All University of Minnesota campuses want a four-year rate of 60 percent by 2012, a five-year rate of 75 percent by 2013 and a six-year rate of 80 percent by 2014.

Craig Swan, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, said the University’s aspirations “are aggressive, but approriate.”

Swan said rates have been climbing steadily for at least the past decade, but the pace recently picked up.

The most notable improvement in recent years is the four-year rate, which had more than an 8 percent increase between 2004 and 2006.

“If we go back a longer period of time, there was a culture on the campus that did not recognize the importance of graduation, and that has changed,” Swan said. “(Now) students don’t come to the ‘U’ to take a few courses. They come to get a degree.”

Several task forces met last year and developed reports submitted to the University detailing various recommendations for actions likely to increase rates.

A plan that allows students to only pay for their required load of 13 credits, coupled with other initiatives like more resources allotted to advising, were instrumental in facilitating the climbing rates, according to Swan.

“The institution needs to create a climate where theexpectation of graduation is just there, and where the institution supports students in their success and graduation,” he said.

Beginning in fall 2002, the University phased in the 13-credit-per-term requirement. The mandate was introduced to facilitate timely graduation.

“The policy understands that some students can’t handle the 13-credit requirement for whatever reason,” Swan said. “It isn’t about the 13 credits; what it’s about is the University clearly stating its expectation (of graduating in four years).”

According to Swan, since fall 2002, average credit loads continue to increase.

Student advising received more funding, allowing students more individually based guidance.

For first-year accounting student Carrie Lilligren, meeting with her adviser helped her understand what she needs to stay on track to graduate on time.

“It was definitely helpful; before that, I didn’t really know what I should be taking,” she said. “Before the end of the year, I’ll go back to see what I should do for fall (semester).”

Services on the Web allow students to independently explore various majors, and Academic Progress Audit System reports can be manipulated to show how a student’s already-earned credits translate to progress within any major, easing the sometimes-cumbersome task of choosing a focus of study.

An online graduation planner slated for release this summer will provide students with an in-depth resource to plan their future course choices.

The new service builds on already-available APAS reports and has the ability to address advising questions to help students understand exact course requirements.

First-year student Amelia Biere said she has no definitive timeline for graduation because she hasn’t chosen a major.

“I thought everyone was on a four-year plan,” she said. “But I don’t know my major yet, so that might inhibit graduation in four years.”

Associate Vice Provost Laura Coffin Koch, a member of one of the task forces commissioned to help improve the pace at which students graduate, said the University isn’t looking for a one-size-fits-all approach.

Instead, it is seeking to implement practices that can be widely used, but are also student-specific.

“Not every student will take the same path,” she said. “What we want is every student to have a path, and we want the University to be able to help them down that path.”