Graduation Woes: AU’s four-year graduation rate is 42 percent

By Lindsay Cameron

Ashland University is considering reducing the number of credit hours needed to graduate in light of a dismal four-year graduation rate.

Currently AU students need to complete 128 hours to graduate, more than most private colleges and universities in Ohio. University officials are considering reducing that number to 120.

The hope is the change will improve AU’s four-year graduation rate, which stands at 42 percent, according to Provost Frank Pettigrew. The average rate of four-year students graduating from private universities in Ohio is 54 percent; the nation’s is 80 percent.

Pettigrew said that cabinet members will vote at their next meeting on criteria that, if followed by students, will ensure their graduation in four years. Pettigrew calls it a four-year graduation guarantee program. If students follow the guidelines but still are not able to graduate in four years, the university would pay for the students’ tuition until they do graduate.

“If they come in and follow these guidelines, they can graduate in four years, and if we don’t [graduate them], we have a mechanism to help that,” Pettigrew said.

The criteria will not be final until the cabinet meeting but Pettigrew said some possible criteria may include taking at least 15 credit hours each semester and not changing majors.

Students who take more than four years to graduate also affect the four-year graduation rate.

From the class of 2005, AU’s six-year graduation rate, which includes the students who graduated in four or five years, was 60 percent, Pettigrew said.

This means that out of 549 freshmen from 2005, 314 students graduated after six years. Thirty of those students went 10 semesters or longer, Pettigrew said.

The university is also focusing on its retention rate as a means of bolstering its graduation rate.

Pettigrew said that, since AU loses 30 percent of its students between their freshmen and sophomore years, it is mathematically impossible to have a graduation rate higher than 70 percent.

AU’s retention rate this year is 71.7 percent, up from the 69.1 percent last year. This is the highest retention rate since 2004.

“We are not going to raise the graduation rate significantly until we raise the retention rate,” Pettigrew said.

Kathy Stone, director of the office of student success and retention, said students’ persistence and progression are essential for improving retention and graduation rates.

The early alert program, college student inventory, and academic success center are several initiatives instituted this year to improve student success and provide students with resources according to their needs.

Stone also agrees with reducing the credit hour requirement for graduation. She said for education programs, many freshmen must take 18 credit hours in their first semester at AU.

“I think for student success, we force students-because they want to graduate in four years and they should-to take more hours than what they can handle,” Stone said.

Baldwin-Wallace College offers the four-year graduation guarantee. According to the college’s

Web site, the institute will pay up to one full year of tuition if a student does not graduate in four years. Other schools in the nation, such as Bethel College and the University of Nebraska, are following the same initiative.

Pettigrew said about 10 programs from the Bachelor of Arts’ and Bachelor of Science’s departments may reduce the number of hours in their programs for graduation. He said several have already volunteered to make the change.

“Dr. Pettigrew is really committed to, ‘What do we need to do differently to make us attractive to people?'” Stone said, “and then to ensure that we could keep students here.”

Student success resources to retain students and graduate them:

The early alert program is a series of surveys completed by faculty in weeks three and five to first identify students who are missing classes frequently or displaying behaviors such as sleeping or texting in class, and then provide assistance for students struggling academically. Academic advisors are notified about the survey results. Emails are sent to students who receive a C- or below on midterms encouraging them to meet with their professors. This program promotes student-professor connections in order to improve the likelihood for success.

College Student Inventory is a survey offered to freshmen in the fall so that the Office of Retention and Student Success can provide them with the resources they need while making the transition from high school to college. A second survey in the spring assesses whether or not these students received assistance appropriate to their needs. This year, 360 out of approx. 600 freshmen took the fall survey, Stone said.

Academic Success Center provides tutoring for students in all academic areas, as well as tips for time management and study habits.