Provosts present plan to boost graduation rates

Kari Petrie

Members of the University’s Board of Regents questioned on Thursday whether comparing graduation rates to other universities is valid given the University’s unique geographic location and the state’s economic situation.

Provost Christine Maziar and Vice Provost Craig Swan presented a regents’ committee with a plan to increase four-year graduation rates to 50 percent from last year’s 28.6 percent. No date was set on when the increase should occur.

Swan said the University’s graduation rates are well below those of other research institutions, including the University of Wisconsin and University of California-Berkeley. In 2001, those schools had a 41 percent and 45.7 percent four-year rate, respectively.

University officials have said graduation rates are the best measure of a student’s academic success.

But several regents said it was unreasonable to measure students’ successes and failures using only comparisons to other institutions’ graduation rates.

Regent Richard McNamara voiced his concern over comparing the University with rural schools, such as the University of Iowa. McNamara said the Twin Cities offers a unique opportunity for students to take a semester off to work.

“We’re comparing apples to oranges,” he said.

Regent Maureen Reed warned the committee about focusing too much on school comparisons, saying it creates a “false sense of security.”

Reed said other areas should be considered in order to improve the institution.

“The real test is the value we deliver to Minnesotans,” she said.

The Commission on University of Minnesota Excellence – an organization created in June 2001 by the State House to monitor the University’s progress – set the 50 percent four-year graduation rate goal.

Regents said the goal was attainable but asked Maziar and Swan to identify a solid date by when the plan should be achieved.

Regent William Hogan said regents must be conscious of the possible effects on University students of Minnesota’s budget deficit and the state’s elimination of work-study money.

Jacob Elo, student representative to the Board of Regents, said the University must compel students to graduate by removing obstacles and improving student satisfaction to improve graduation rates.

Swan said his office is developing several ways to aid students in graduating on time, including a Web-based tool allowing students to develop an interactive four-year plan.

Other ways to assist students include expanding and enhancing learning communities and improving scholarship opportunities by increasing scholarship funds, he said.

University officials said established graduation policies are already helping.

Almost 8 percent more students are taking 13 credits per semester since the University passed a 13-credit minimum for incoming students.

Put in place for this school year, the policy charges students for 13 credits whether they are taking them all or not. Students receive free tuition for every credit taken after 13.

“It’s feasible for students to be full time and to graduate in four or five years,” Swan said.

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