University continues push for four-year graduation

The U stresses the importance of graduating in four years, in part, to save money.

by James Nord

The University of Minnesota administration has stressed four-year graduation for nearly two decades to help students keep pace with their peers and to help reduce the economic burden on the University. Although the trend started before their time, Provost Tom Sullivan and Vice Provost Bob McMaster cited concern for students and the University as the basis for the push. They also say the poor economy is an additional weight on both students and the University. For the University, it is difficult to control costs if students take longer than four years to graduate, they said. âÄúThere are a whole set of both philosophical and fiscal reasons why itâÄôs really important that students get out in four years but increasingly itâÄôs that fiscal issue that we really hone in on,âÄù McMaster said. Often, sections of introductory classes in subjects like Spanish and chemistry must be added to accommodate the number of students taking them. âÄú[Through four year graduation] weâÄôre minimizing or avoiding bottlenecks in the curriculum,âÄù Sullivan said. âÄúBecause students are staying behind, other students canâÄôt get through âĦ and drive the cost up.âÄù Additionally, students who stay longer than four years increase the burden on advising and student services that could be allocated to new students, Sullivan said. However, Cliff Adelman, senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington D.C. is critical of these claims. âÄúShow me. Show me where it causes bottlenecks âĦ show me how it makes advising more expensive, show me the number of extra hours that advisers have to spend on students,âÄù Adelman said. But according to University administrators, graduating in four years looks more professional to potential employers, minimizes loans and allows for increased access to a job after graduation because students arenâÄôt competing with multiple waves of graduates. Additionally, students lose years worth of salary that they could be making if they had graduated on time. Administrators also stress that students benefit from a more rigorous regimen of studies. âÄúThe longer you spread this out, the less intense the educational experience is,âÄù Sullivan said. âÄúThere may be less actual learning âĦ the focus and the intensity actually enhances the quality of the educational experience.âÄù The latest information the administration is using to promote four-year graduation comes from the book âÄúCrossing the Finish Line,âÄù which outlines the benefits of graduating in that time frame. According to the book, the governmentâÄôs focus on six-year graduation rates needs to be changed to reflect a four-year policy. âÄúThe research, the methodology and the data are very sound and so we are giving credence to the most recent âĦ research on the subject,âÄù Sullivan said. The push for graduating in four years began with University presidents Mark Yudof and Nils Hasselmo. Yudof created the four-year graduation guarantee in 1997, which guarantees access to classes students need in order to graduate, or they are reimbursed. The UniversityâÄôs policy to charge for only the first 13 credits each semester was put in place in 2002 in order to increase the amount of credits students take each semester. For 2007, the University of Minnesota had four-year graduation rate of 45 percent, which is up from 41 percent in 2006. The University has implemented a number of strategies such as new advising structures, streamlined majors, and attempting to foster a four-year class culture in an effort to increase the rate. Adelman is wary of even partially judging a student based on the time in which they earned a degree. âÄúAre you going to say to the young lady who starts her Bachelor career at Oklahoma State University and then discovers that she wants to major in marine biology and thereâÄôs no freaking ocean in Oklahoma to study and she transfers to the University of Rhode Island where thereâÄôs an ocean âĦ that you want to stop her from doing that because it takes more time?âÄù Adelman said. âÄúWhat kind of elegance is that, to think you can micromanage student lives.âÄù In the end, a four-year graduation requirement is unlikely. âÄúWhat would we do if the person failed [to graduate in four years]?âÄù Sullivan said. âÄúKick them out? I donâÄôt think thatâÄôs optimal for an educational experience, to have that kind of rigidity.âÄù