Administration, SGA wrestle sinking graduation rates
The University’s administration is working with the Student Government Association to launch a new program this fall called Foundations of Excellence, which seeks to improve students’ first-year experiences and six-year graduation rates.
Through student surveys and the establishment of committees made up of students, faculty and staff, the two-year program will spend the first year evaluating UH’s strengths and weaknesses.
One survey will be given to freshmen halfway through the semester, and another survey will be given to upperclassmen.
“How does dining impact your first year? How does parking? All those things will be fully considered through this whole process,” said SGA president Cedric Bandoh.
The University will report the results of its evaluation to the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education for help finding solutions that can be implemented during the program’s second year.
The Gardner Institute was founded in 1999 and works with institutions of higher learning to develop and enhance the first year retention of students.
“Only certain universities are invited to be part of this,” Bandoh said. “We’re working with the best minds in regards to professors and administrators from other universities who have great academic enterprises.”
In addition to first-year experiences, six-year graduation rates are another focus of the program.
Since 2005, more students at UH have dropped out after the first year than any other. While first-year retention rates have increased to 83 from 77 percent in the last five years, the six-year graduation rate remains at 46 percent. In comparison, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M have 80 percent six-year graduation rates, according to US World News & Report.
Six-year graduation rates and first-year retention rates also account for 20 percent of the University’s US World News & Report’s National Universities ranking.
“We have to move the needle on six-year graduation rates,” said President and Chancellor Renu Khator. “Our retention is looking pretty good for the first year and second year, but we need to start working on year three and four.”
While the graduation rate is below the national and state average, UH’s student body has a different composition than other schools in the state. Twenty-five percent of students are age 25 or older, while UT and A&M are below 6 percent in that category, according to reports published by the universities.
In 2012, less than half of first-year freshmen lived on campus, and more than 60 percent of that same population had financial needs, according to reports published by UH.
“It’s not an excuse to not do better,” Bandoh said. “There are other universities who have similar student profiles in terms of the types of students that we have who have higher graduation rates.”
To raise the rates, Khator and provost Paula Short are currently working on a program called “UH in 4.” The details of the program have not yet been released.
“It’s currently in the works, but the idea is to graduate students in less time, with less cost and less effort,” Short said.
In addition, the administration will use funds generated from this year’s tuition hike to hire more advisers and faculty, increase need-based financial aid and improve the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library.
“The whole point is that if you set a good foundation for students their first year,” Bandoh said. “Then they will be on the right path to succeed and matriculate through the rest of their years at the University.”