Deans discuss plans to improve graduation rate

Anne Preller

Distressed by dismal University graduation rates, the Council of Undergraduate Deans discussed proposals Thursday to get students their degrees.

“The graduation rates have been the elephants in the room that nobody talks about,” said Jerry Rinehart, the director of campus/college levels from the Carlson School of Management.

Committee members were concerned with how much time was spent on admissions, while little time was spent on graduation rates. The discrepancies were obvious when compared to other universities.

“We are most like Indiana, Iowa, Ohio State and Purdue when you look at things like students in the proportion of the top ten percent of their high school graduating class, top 25 percent ACT scores. But when you look at our graduation rates, we do not look like those schools,” said Craig Swan, University vice provost and an economics professor.

The council cited environmental issues, such as an urban campus and culture, as significant to the University’s retention and graduation rate.

Other vital factors include students’ need to be financially independent, the need to be free of student loans after graduation, and high credit card debt.

The council also expressed frustration with students who choose to work part-time and attend school part-time instead of taking out student loans and finishing school within four or five years.

“The average debt students have after graduation is $14,000,” said Linda Ellinger, associate to the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

Many on the council would like to send the message to students that the University is about graduation and initiatives for students at all levels to continue on a four-year plan.

“If you took our 83 percent first- year retention rate and accumulated for four years, you would then get a graduation rate of about 47 or 48 percent for a four-year plan,” Swan said.

“If our retention rate was 90 percent, we would graduate 65 percent for a four-year degree.”

Two suggestions were offered to entice students to remain as a full-time student and graduate in four to five years.

The first suggestion was to set tuition at a flat rate. Students would be billed for 15 credits, despite the actual number of credits for which they registered.

The second suggestion was to place all students on a five- or six-year graduation plan. If students do not earn their degrees within the allotted time, they would be forced to re-enroll to complete their education at the University.

The council discussed measures already in place to educate parents and students during orientation about financial alternatives for paying for school. Members stressed to each other they wanted to implement a systematic intervention approach.

Job security – the promise a university degree will equal a job – was an important point the council wanted to stress as another graduation initiative.

Part of the problem with graduation rates might lie within the admission rates.

“We tend to solve our tuition problems by admitting more students,” said Rinehart.

The council will release its full report in August.

 

Anne Preller covers student life and welcomes comments at [email protected]