U barely misses four-, six-year grad rate goals

The four-year graduation rate for the class of 2012 was 58 percent.

by Tyler Gieseke

The University of Minnesota just barely missed the goals the Board of Regents  set for 2012 graduation rates.

The University’s graduation rates have risen significantly in the past few decades  but fell short in 2012 of what Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education  Bob McMaster called a “very, very ambitious” goal.

Fifty-eight  percent of students who started in 2008 finished four years later — two percentage points shy of the goal. But the 73 percent  six-year rate fell seven points short.

“I think they were very lofty goals,” he said. “They were really put in place to have the University pull out all the stops to try to improve the rates as fast as we could.”

The University focuses its efforts on increasing four-year rates, McMaster said, adding that five- and six-year rates will increase accordingly. He expects the four-year rate to reach its 60 percent goal by fall 2014.

The University has increased its four-year graduation rates by nearly 17 percentage points since 2006, according to University data.  

Although the University missed its goals, McMaster said little additional action will be taken besides perhaps stepping up what the University is already doing.

Increasing graduation rates

Currently, the University focuses on pushing the importance of four-year graduation to students, McMaster said.

“We really expect that students will graduate in four years,” he said, adding that the message is “pretty hard to escape.”

For example, at convocation each year, students are given a tassel with their four-year graduation year on it.

Another approach the University takes in increasing rates includes admitting students who can graduate faster, McMaster said.

“The quality of our students has gone up significantly over the last five or 10 years,” he said.

Since 2001, the average ACT score for freshmen entering the University has increased about 3 points, from 24.5 to 27.7 in 2012, according to the University’s Office of Institutional Research. 

In addition, McMaster said the University established Welcome Week  in the fall of 2008 and Graduation Planner, which allows students to plan their coursework for each semester until graduation. The aim, he said, is to increase support for students.

Other initiatives the University has taken to increase graduation rates include standardizing the number of credits to graduate across departments, reducing the number of themes needed in liberal education requirements from five to four and providing services to those in a financial emergency.

But these things don’t always work.

Dan Johns, who dropped out of the University after four semesters, said he realized his industrial and systems engineering degree wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do. His adviser discouraged him from changing colleges, and Johns eventually left altogether. 

“It hasn’t held me back from anything yet,” he said.

Johns said he could find similar opportunities elsewhere.

“The only real thing with the U is getting the University of Minnesota on your degree,” he said.