Regents approve efforts to improve graduation rates

Elizabeth Putnam

The Board of Regents gave a unanimous go-ahead Thursday to begin policy plans to improve the University’s lower-than-average graduation and retention rates.

Currently, 51 percent of University students graduate in six years or more. This rate ranks last among U.S. News and World Report’s top 50 institutions.

“This is the most important policy issue facing the University,” said Vice Provost Craig Swan at the Educational Planning and Policy meeting. “With the regents’ backing, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and begin working.”

The regents’ action comes just one day after the University Senate rejected a proposal banning students from withdrawing from more than 12 credits during their University education.

After months of University discussions about the low ranking, Swan said, it’s time to stop making excuses and begin policy planning to correct the problem.

Some board members said the University should focus on increasing four-year graduation rates.

“I am very supportive of an aggressive approach Ö it makes me squeamish to even think of a five-year graduation rate,” said Regent Maureen Reed.

Swan said there are several possible ways to increase graduation rates.

Topping the list would be a tuition restructuring plan, which would allow students taking more than 12 credits to take additional courses for free, he said.

Currently, the University offers half-price tuition after 12 credits.

Swan said the University and Michigan State University are the only institutions in the Big Ten that charge money after 12 credits.

Rosenthal said implementing clear expectations for students and communicating these through advising is also crucial to changing the problem.

He said showing students the long-term savings on timely graduation is imperative.

The average freshman and sophomore take 14 credits, while the average junior takes 13.5 and the average senior takes 11.7.

Swan attributes the decrease in credits to students working more hours later in their college years.

“Students see the immediate income as a bigger deal,” Swan said.

The presentation also outlined incentives to students, including class and registration queue access.

St. Paul Student Representative Kyle Althoff said peer advisers would be a valuable option to add.

“It’s going to involve a dramatic culture change,” he said.

Regent Michael O’Keefe said laying down the expectations is key only if the University provides the tools for students to adapt to the changes.

University President Mark Yudof said the problem is not unmotivated students but rather “a matter of focus and culture.”

He said the low graduation and retention rates hurt the health of the University in dealing with the state Legislature and maintaining public support.

“I don’t know how I would feel sending my daughter to an institution where there is a 50 percent graduation rate,” Yudof said.