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3/23/2012 8:48:00 AM
Anderson University addressing low graduation rate

Dani Palmer, Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON — The rates for those graduating within six years at Anderson University and Ball State University aren’t looking too high, according to statistics from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

According to the Chronicle, the percentage of students receiving a bachelor’s degree within six years at AU in 2010 was 56.8 percent. At BSU, it was 56.7 percent.

Officials from both universities said the number doesn’t reflect the number of transfers they receive, and that it is just students who begin as freshmen and finish at the university who are counted.

While reasons such as having a job or family may be contributing to the lower graduation rates, it’s hard to pinpoint what is exactly going on, officials said.

Brent Baker, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Anderson University, said graduation rates are a final product of a number of factors and that students may drop-out or transfer for a variety of reasons.

“They are very individual,” he said, adding that a student may leave because of family issues, for financial purposes or because he or she just isn’t successful academically. “Life happens for all of us.”

He said students’ interests may change and they may transfer if AU doesn’t offer the major they want.

“Some end up at college and just aren’t ready yet,” he said, adding students may come back when older and more focused.

Chris Williams, director of university communications for AU, said adult education students are included in those numbers and they may not follow the same path as traditional students.

Some students may also switch majors and take a little longer to graduate. It all depends on students’ needs and interests, Williams said.

Tom Taylor, vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications at Ball State University, said BSU students may not graduate on time due to financial, personal or family reasons, or that their interests may change ergo they change or add majors.

Some come in as what Taylor calls “still deciding” or undecided majors.

The economy may also play a role, he added.

While students may transfer out of Ball State because it’s “really not the place they thought it was or not the right fit for them,” Taylor said they have roughly 1,000 students who transfer in.

Again, they don’t count in those graduation rates.

But, the universities are working to keep the students around and graduated in four years.

Taylor said Ball State uses the Map Works first-year student check-up program to watch for early signs of students not moving forward, such as those with homesickness, skipping class and those not doing well financially or academically.

He said faculty and staff advises students on a four-year plan and hands out $500 completion scholarships to those who graduate in four years.

That way, the students “plan carefully and stay focused.”

“(Ball State will) award those students who make good choices and are able to graduate in four years,” he said.

He added that they also work on front-end transition for those students going from their first to second year. The retention rate for those students is at 79.4 percent.

“There are a number of ways to identify students who could be at risk,” AU’s Baker said.

He said staff may notice those risks through activity in the residence halls, mid-term grades, chapel attendance or a student’s bill not being in order so he or she may register for classes the next semester.

He said a group of faculty and staff make intervention plans when they notice that sort of behavior.

AU’s first to second year student retention rate is at 79 percent, Baker said.

“The further they move along,” Williams said, “the higher the possibility is they will stay.”

AU also pairs first year students with a faculty mentor and has the Kissinger Learning Center where tutoring and academic skill assessments are offered, Williams said.

Jason Bearce, associate commissioner for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, said there is a great emphasis on getting students out in four years or under because the longer students go, the more it costs them and the less likely they are to complete college at all.

And if they don’t finish, that debt is going to be even harder to pay off, he added.

Bearce said only a third of all Indiana students graduate in four years. Less than half graduate after six.

“We really have our work cut out for us at all levels,” he said.

After the latest legislative session, Bearce said colleges will need to reduce the amount of credits required for bachelor programs to 120 to help students graduate in four years. He said some of the highest caliber college programs have already been able to keep those credits at 120.

He said more and more students are going on to college but may not be prepared academically, or may have families or work, and that schools need to design systems to meet student needs.

As an incentive for schools to improve those graduation rates, there is performance funding. Bearce said colleges receive more money when they graduate more students and get more students out in four years or less.

While the state and schools need to take steps to improve those rates, Bearce added students need to play a part, too.

He said they need to take the right number of credit hours for starters.

Instead of taking the minimum 12, take at least 15 credit hours and take advantage of summer school if possible, he said.

He added that students also need to think about costs and what they want to do with their degrees.

Getting college students out in six years or less isn’t just a problem in Indiana, he said. It’s nationwide.

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