Deans debate reasons for low graduation, retention rates

by Justin Ware

The University’s lower-than-average six-year graduation and retention rates dominated the Council of Undergraduate Deans’ agenda Thursday morning.

Among the U.S. News and World Report’s top 50 public institutions, the University rated last with a 51 percent six-year graduation rate.

The University of Virginia led the field with a rate of 91 percent.

“Graduation is an important measure of a student’s success,” said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education. “Our (graduation) rates do not compare favorably with other similarly situated institutions.”

Living in a high-activity urban center such as the Twin Cities could be one reason students are more lethargic in completing their education, committee members said.

However, other institutions in similarly sized metropolitan areas, such as the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of California-San Diego, have higher graduation rates.

Mark Bultmann, director of
student services, said students changing program plans late in their careers reduces the chance of graduating in six years or fewer.

He said problems arise when those students become upperclassmen and change academic plans to improve their grade point averages and chances of acceptance into graduate school. Consequently, starting a new academic plan keeps students at the University longer.

To remedy low retention and graduation rates, deans discussed giving students the option to register for a full year of classes rather than one semester.

Swan said it would be “beneficial for the institution and the students.”

Swan would like to see students have the opportunity to register for college core classes – classes required for graduation – two semesters in advance.

He said this will guarantee students placement in certain required classes such as composition and a second language.

Advance registration allows the University more time to prepare for the number of students taking classes the next semester. This would provide more time for staffing and class-size decisions.

General College Associate Dean Marjorie Cowmeadow said this could hurt students’ ability to “shop” for a major during the first years of school.

Cowmeadow said many students are undecided and having to choose an entire year’s worth of courses could limit the opportunities to change programs – an option she said is important for students early in their academic careers.

Along with lower-than-average graduation rates, retention of students after their third year is a concern for the University.

Gerald Rinehart, assistant dean of the Carlson School of Management, said students’ displeasure with University advising services are partly responsible for low retention rates.

“We want to create a better learning environment,” he said.

Rinehart said he feels there is a misunderstanding between the students and those who are trying to help them.

“Our attempt to retain students is turning students against us,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”


Justin Ware welcomes comments at [email protected]