Four years is fundamentally flawed for graduation

Nick Sallen, Editor-in-Chief

Many students enter college their freshman year planning to graduate in 4 years. Some come in with transfer credits from high school advanced placement courses or another university — others come without any college credit. Finishing in four years will prevent the student from acquiring a lot of interest in loans, which is a great incentive.

However, the freshman four-year graduation rate at UND is below 30 percent. I see at least three factors which limit students graduation and retention rates: re-thinking your major, needing a part or full-time job to finance your living and school expenses and personal events that distract the student from school. Adding an extra semester or two can add more financial stress to the student.

To maximize graduation rates, colleges should focus more resources on the students with average GPAs. Inside Higher Ed reports that 45 percent of college dropouts finish have a GPA between 2 and 3.

Academic support is distributed disproportionately towards thriving and failing students. Therefore students in the middle, who make up a large portion of all dropouts, aren’t showing up on anyone’s radar. Someone with a 3-4 GPA must have all As and Bs. However, if the same student has a 2-3 GPA, the could have mostly Bs and Cs, being on track to graduate on-time, or As and Fs. Failing classes would leave the student without enough credits each semester to graduate on time.

It is the academic advisor’s responsibility to monitor their student’s success and failure. Advisors should work with students to create a multi-year plan to graduate and meet with the student multiple times throughout the year to hold the student accountable towards the goal they’ve set together. In order to accomplish this, I think advisors should be available many days during the week in the afternoon or evening when students are done with class. All too often I walk past professors offices who have their office hours posted, and I see one day of the week for an hour or two.

I’ve heard from professors that students never show up to office hours, so they have reduced their office hour availability. You can not force a student to go to your office, just like how you can force the student to pass your class. But as a facilitator of knowledge, I think it is your duty to have the resource there, even if nobody uses it.

I believe universities should focus less on getting students to graduate in four years and more on getting students to graduate in six years

Any school which awards federal student aid must report the percentage of students who graduate in six years to the federal government. So it’s in the the university’s best interest to maximize the six-year graduation rate.

In order to make six-year graduation rates increase, I think a university should make more courses available in the summer and online, reduce the high cost of an online degree and allow transfer credits to be processed more easily. Flexibility in when classes are available will allow the student to create a multi-year plan which is customized to their needs and limitations. Students who cannot physically go to class should not be burdened by the extra costs associated with an online class. If anything, online classes should cost less, as the instructor of the course will not need to be present two or three times a week lecturing.

Courses that are required to graduate should be offered at least once a year. Required classes that do not have enough interest, and are therefore only offered every two to three years severely limit the options of students. One course that’s required yet offered sparsely offered can have many negative trickle-down effects limiting the student’s enrollment flexibility.

Making college more affordable would also allow students to allocate more time on their classes, increasing grades and the number of classes they can take each semester. This would inadvertently increase graduation and retention rates. A low-cost institution means students don’t have to work 10-20+ hours a week.

The ultimate goal of any instruction of higher learning should be to prepare students for the rest of their career. Having the expectation of graduating in four years is simply not realistic anymore. Adding an extra semester or two is not bad at all, as long as one is able to further meet their goal of graduating by finding success in every semester.

Nick Sallen is the editor in chief for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]