Students find it difficult to graduate in four years

Sociology and philosophy junior Dominic Thoemke said he does not see how he could finish his undergraduate double major in four years.

He could take 20 credits and finish a senior project this spring semester or graduate after the summer. He plans on doing the latter.

“Counselors insist that you reduce your schedule so that it is easier for the student, but then it is not feasible to graduate,” Thoemke said.

Some University students are finding it tough to graduate in four years, while others complete their degree in less than three.

Dr. Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education, said 28.6 percent of 2000-02 University graduates did so in four years.

“That is not a good number,” Swan said. “We have to make a public commitment raising the four-year graduation rate.”

The University expects to raise the four-year graduation rate by 50 percent by 2012, Swan said.

According to the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, the average credit load for fall 2003 University undergraduates is 14.2 credits.

Chris Kearns, assistant dean of student services for the College of Liberal Arts, said students often come to the University unsure of what they want to do.

Changing majors after completing a large amount of credits is one of the common reasons students do not graduate in four years, he said.

Kearns suggests finding a job or engaging in shadowing experiences that connect to the student’s subject interest.

“It is a very useful strategy for students,” Kearns said. “You could have a nasty surprise if you trained for something you didn’t like.”

University philosophy major Blake Bliss-Hatling said he could graduate sooner if he did not work as much.

Bliss-Hatling has attended the University for the last three years, but has only taken three semesters of coursework.

“I have been trying to split up working and going to school full time,” he said.

Kearns said the number of hours worked is an important factor in graduating on time.

“It is very difficult for students that work 30 to 40 hours a week (to graduate in four years),” he said.

Kearns said it is easy and common for students to handle a 15-credit load alone, but outside variables often delay students from completing a four-year degree.

According to an Education Commission of the States survey of 262 four-year public institutions, the national four-year graduation rate is 28.1 percent, slightly lower than the University’s rate.

In comparison, the four-year graduation rate for the University of Wisconsin-Madison is approximately 17 percent higher than the national average.

Some students have found the four-year plan is more feasible when coming to the University with high school advanced placement credits.

Nick Bisek, an aerospace and engineering junior, came to the University with college credits he earned in high school. He said he will have no problem completing his coursework in four years.

“If you come in ahead, it’s real simple,” he said.

Elizabeth Sanberg, a political science and sociology sophomore, said one of the main reasons she came to the University was because they accepted most advanced placement credits. She started college with 51 advanced placement credits from taking 10 tests.

“It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to graduate early, but if I wanted to it was an option,” she said.

Although Sanberg could graduate this spring, she said she is not quite ready for the workforce and would like some more time to figure out what she is going to do.

Swan said the University is aware of the four-year graduation concern and is working on advising resources and course-access issues, as well as providing students with a way to follow their graduation progress online.