4-year graduation rate increases six percent
As seniors mail graduation announcements and finish up their last undergraduate finals in preparation for commencement next week, more of them than ever will walk after taking only four years of classes at UH.
The four-year graduation rate has increased from 19 to 25 percent over the past five years, and University officials are anticipating that figure will only increase with graduation and retention initiatives.
Low graduation rates have been one of UH’s biggest issues, according to College Factual. The university statistics website says UH is among the worst performing schools nationally when it comes to graduating students based on those students’ anticipated academic achievements in college.
Although the graduation rate is continuing to rise, the number is considerably low compared to the top two Texas schools for graduating students quickly.
Texas A&M is graduating 56 percent of students within four years and 85 percent of students in six years. Similarly, University of Texas at Austin has a four-year graduation rate of 58 percent and a six-year graduation rate of 81 percent.
“It is important to remember how the University differs from other schools when comparing it to other graduation rates in the state,” Associate Dean of Students Kamran Riaz said. “UH being a commuter school is one of those differences.”
UH currently has about 42,000 students enrolled, and only about 20 percent of those students live on campus, according to the College Board.
Teaching and learning sophomore Madeline Downs agrees that students who commute could face issues that would cause them to delay taking the classes they need.
“Sometimes classes aren’t offered during times when we need them the most,” Downs said. “If you don’t live on campus and don’t see a class being offered at a convenient time to fit your schedule, then you might wind up just not taking the class at all.”
According to College Factual, students that still did not graduate within six years had mixed reasons for not doing so. Twenty percent transferred, 26 percent dropped out and only 6 percent still completed a degree at UH.
“A lot of students live off-campus and are part-time, have kids or a family to take care of or other obligations,” Riaz said. “These are some of the things that may cause students to take longer to graduate.”
StartClass, a research website that provides students and parents with data to help them make a confident school choice, agrees with this explanation. The website said that some schools have requirements or exceptions that make it exceedingly difficult for students to graduate in four years.
Electrical engineering sophomore Michael Le used engineering majors as an example of students that don’t graduate within four years.
“Most engineering majors are expected to graduate in five years, but that’s if the student takes about five classes each semester,” Le said. “However, because engineering classes are so taxing, averaging at five classes can sometimes be impossible.”
Riaz said that this is where taking advantage of academic advisers comes into play. Talking to an adviser about course load issues could help ensure that students still graduate within six years.
“If you don’t go see your adviser, you’re only hurting yourself when it comes to doing what needs to be done,” Downs said. “It’s their job to help you.”
UHin4, a graduation and retention initiative designed to motivate students to graduate within four years, was only established in 2014, and the recommendation to meet with advisers only started this year.
“When we implement these policies, we won’t be able to see immediate effects,” Riaz said. “But it’s been a few years since some of them have been introduced, so I think we will see effects pretty soon.”
Education reporter Reeve Hamilton said in an article for the Texas Tribune that although graduation rates may lag for some schools, the rates should not be used to measure an institution’s primary success. Pressure to improve extends to all institutions, not just those with the worst graduation rates.
UT, even with a four-year graduation rate of 58 percent, still sets goals. According to their website on student success, the large university has made it a priority to raise the four-year graduation rate to 70 percent by 2017.
As for UH’s initiatives, Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Student Success Teri Elkins Longacre said she believes the University is already seeing effects.
“To date, students participating in the UHin4 program have achieved higher academic performance and progress more quickly through their studies than those students not participating in the program,” Longacre said.
UHin4 is available to all incoming freshman, but it is not required. The program offers fixed four-year tuition, which serves as a budgeting tool for students, allowing them to pay for college at a fixed rate.
Downs said UHin4 has helped her stay on track to graduate.
“With my advisers checking in on me, I know that graduating on time won’t be an issue,” Downs said. “It has for sure motivated me to keep going in the right direction.”