Administration out of touch with student lives

Until now, I have kept my mouth shut about recent University decisions, such as the impending tuition increase. Although I was distressed that thousands of students’ checkbooks would be thinner and student-loan totals fatter, I placed my trust in the administrators to do what they had to do. But this week I was put over the edge.

In the Aug. 8 Daily, a front-page story reported University officials are “urging” students to alter their lifestyles and graduate on time. Students should work less, live closer to campus and do everything they possibly can to graduate in six years because the University is at the bottom of every list of college graduation rates. And this is after the administration dramatically raised tuition less than a month ago, making it even more difficult to attend the University.

You know, I really feel bad for the University administrators. If only the poor University could raise its graduation rates, it would look so much better on paper. And that’s what is really important, isn’t it? Please tell me this is a joke.

Let me make sure I have this right: University administrators just raised tuition by a double-digit percentage and now they’re telling students to just work a little less, live a little closer to campus and take out just a few more student loans to graduate within six years – or, even better, four years?

Are University administrators so out of touch with the student body they don’t have a clue what’s going on? As officials fret that the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Iowa, Ohio State University and the University of California-Los Angeles, among others, have higher six-year graduation rates, students face real-life struggles every day that sometimes keep them from graduating in what administrators consider an acceptable period of time.

University deans recommend students work 15 hours or less each week to allow adequate time for studying, live near campus so they do not become disengaged and take out more student loans to pay for college because it will be better in the long run.

But look at the reality. Most students would prefer not to work more than 15 hours each week; instead, they do so out of necessity. To live near the University and work so few hours, students would have to be given enough loan money to cover their tuition (including the recent hike), textbooks, monthly rent and other living expenses. Their paychecks would be spent on other things of less necessity, such as clothes and the occasional night out.

Those loans better be pretty hefty because in addition to the tuition hike, rent rates around the University have been steadily increasing – the Twin Cities’ vacancy rate stands at a dismal low. So all of those students who need to live closer to campus to avoid alienation from college life and potentially dropping out are going to need significantly more money to do so.

University administrators make it sound easy. Just take out more loans and pay them off later – not a big deal. But some students do not qualify for massive amounts of student loans. I only qualified for about $8,000 each year – not even enough to pay for my annual tuition as a full-time student, let alone rent and other expenses. Granted, I qualified for less because my parents were helping me out. But they also have other kids to pay for – including another college student. It’s not like they could simply write a check for tuition and be done with it.

In addition, other life experiences – both good and bad – come up in every person’s life. I have friends who had to drop out of college as a result of pregnancy, death in the family or because college simply became too expensive. It took me five years plus a summer session to graduate because I spent six months interning full-time to give me the experience I’ll need in the job market.

University President Mark Yudof often tells legislators what he thinks a land-grant state university should be able to offer students. Well, I think a land-grant university should open its doors to anyone qualified, no matter how long it takes to finish a degree. It’s the student’s prerogative.

Before University officials begin imposing drastic measures to raise their graduation rates – including kicking students out after six years – they should realize most students don’t purposely dawdle through college. Most students want to earn their undergraduate degrees, get into their careers and get on with their lives.

But unrealistic standards from University administrators prevent this from happening by increasing dropout and transfer rates. The 50,000 students on the Twin Cities campus face economic, employment, opportunity, and living challenges every day. The difficulties of student life do not always fit into University administrators’ perfect plans. But that is reality. Students deal with it; officials need to as well.

Erin Ghere’s column appears weekly. She welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]