U considers graduation guarantee

by Brian Bakst

A select number of incoming University students may be guaranteed graduation in four years under a new program starting this fall.
Administrators unveiled the program to the Board of Regents on Friday as part of an update on the biennial budget request. Although improving graduation rates has been a University 2000 goal, some regents were not as receptive to the graduation guarantee as administrators expected.
“Four-year graduation is absolutely essential to what we are doing,” University President Nils Hasselmo told regents. “We must remove barriers to students who want a more intense educational student experience.”
Marvin Marshak, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said because the program would force the University to seriously examine students’ class needs, it would help administrators identify the barriers undergraduates face. Then, Marshak said, the University can correct those problems.
A pilot program, scheduled for this fall, would be open to an undetermined number of freshman who intend to major in popular programs such as the life sciences. Marshak said students would fill out a four-year schedule, which would outline classes they would take each year.
Currently, only 15 percent of University students graduate in four years. When General College is excluded, the four-year graduation rate jumps to 19 percent. Twice that number graduate in five years.
But Regent Wendell Anderson asked whether graduating more students in four years is a necessary goal. Employers would much rather hire graduates who studied for six or eight years and worked to fund their educations, he said, than four-year graduates, whose parents have paid for their education.
“Why do we permit ourself to be judged by that kind of a concept?” Anderson asked. “The University should never permit itself to be measured by the percentage of undergraduates who complete their work after four years.”
But Hasselmo said the University will be judged by that figure whether it likes it or not.
Anderson said that students’ lengthy stays are because of the University’s admission and graduation standards. He said those high standards contradict the University’s four-year graduation goal. “In the past 10 to 12 years, the University has taken dramatic steps to improve its drop-out rate,” Anderson added.
The discussion of the four-year graduation plan led to a broader debate about how the University defines its academic priorities. Regent Jean Keffeler said University officials don’t spend enough time identifying academic goals.
“We need to spend much more time as a board talking about what we want to finance, before we talk about how we are going to finance it,” Keffeler said. “People want to know where the University is going.”
Hasselmo said regents have been told many times of the administration’s academic goals. “The board really has to make up its mind about how it wants to (implement U2000),” Hasselmo said.
Regent Chairman Thomas Reagan was quick to intervene. “I don’t think you know where the board is. I would choose my words carefully,” Reagan said to Hasselmo.
Marshak said in an interview Friday that the University would require students in the guaranteed graduation program to take one-fourth of their credits toward graduation each year. He added it would be too tedious to evaluate students for each quarter.
If students were unable to get classes they need, a section would be created or the class would be free the next quarter. “We wouldn’t be able to offer this opportunity if we had a tremendous problem” with closed classes, Marshak said. “We wouldn’t have the money to fund it.”
Limitations would exist, Marshak added. Reimbursement and the creation of class sections would not apply to students who could take classes at other times. “Do we accommodate students who have to work at 2:30?” Marshak added. “Then we all pay a price for inefficiency.”
Although the most popular periods are Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon, the University needs to use classrooms at all times, Marshak said.