Graduation rates prompt scrutiny of CLAadvising

by Todd Milbourn

Although the proportion of University students graduating within five years nudged to a 17-year high last year, the University’s graduation rate remains significantly lower than comparable four-year institutions, according to an annual study released by the American College Testing program in February.
In response to the graduation-rate gap and growing student concerns, the College of Liberal Arts plans to revise undergraduate advising and encourage more campus involvement by summer.
The national rate of students who enrolled as freshmen in fall 1994 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree within five years slipped one point to 51 percent at public, Ph.D.-granting institutions with selective admissions policies, the ACT report indicated.
Of the University’s 1994 freshmen class, only 42 percent graduated within the same period, an increase of 2 percent since the previous year’s study. It is still 9 percent below the national average.
To combat the disparity between the University and competing institutions, CLA is implementing new programs to help boost graduation rates.
“We recognize this gap,” said CLA Assistant Dean Jean Cameron. “And we’re developing a new model that’s going to make a difference for students in the future.”
Since January 1999, teams of CLA administrators have been listening to student concerns and analyzing data, including the ACT report, to help develop revised graduation strategies.
The new advising model, scheduled to take effect prior to the June freshmen orientation, will eliminate separate premajor and major advisers in CLA.
A team of career consultants, department advisers and peers to answer student questions will take the advisers’ place.
“The focus will be on the students, not the advisers,” Cameron said.
The advising restructure is part of a broader CLA effort to cultivate community and a sense of belonging for undergraduates on campus.
The size of the University and its location in the heart of a major metropolitan area can alienate many students, Cameron said.
“If students feel like a part of the community, they’ll stay,” she added.
In a companion study, ACT measured the likelihood of students to return to school after their first year.
Seventeen percent of University students who enrolled as freshmen in 1998 did not return the following fall.
At similar universities, 19 percent did not continue after their first year.
Ron Matross, a senior analyst at the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, foresees the University maintaining its strength in retention rates while catching up in graduation rates in coming years.
“I expect the numbers only to increase,” Matross said. “Students are coming in better prepared every year.”
Cameron shares Matross’ optimism for the future.
“It’s really an exciting time to be a part of CLA,” she said.
CLA Dean Steve Rosenstone and Ann Waltner, an associate dean for academic programs, will listen to student concerns March 2 at 2 p.m. in 15 Humphrey Center.

Todd Milbourn welcomes comments at [email protected]