President Elson S. Floyd

Perspectives

Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. - 6/5/09

Turning Freshmen into Graduates

When we admit freshmen at Washington State University, we make a commitment to give them access to the classes and the academic support they need to graduate in a timely fashion.  I am pleased to report that WSU has made substantial, measureable progress in support of that commitment.

Students should be able to graduate in four years. Some students may take a bit longer and sometimes personal or economic issues force delays.  But I have never believed that it is a good use of the students’ money, or the money allocated by taxpayers to support our institution, to stretch the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree into the indefinite future.

A national report about college graduation rates from the American Enterprise Institute, which received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has received quite a bit of media attention this week. The report found that only about 53 percent of students nationally who entered a college or university in 2001 graduated from that same institution in six years. That is, indeed, an unacceptably low rate.

Fortunately, the numbers are higher for Washington State University and the state of Washington in general. Washington now ranks ninth overall among states in six-year graduation rates. At WSU, the six-year graduation rate cited in the report is 63 percent. The most recent figure, which covers freshmen students who began their studies at the Pullman campus in 2002, is better — 66.8 percent.

In fact, WSU’s graduation rate has climbed in the last 10 years from 59 percent to 66.8 percent. Among minority students, the 1992 freshman class graduation rate was 46.4 percent; the rate for the 2002 freshman class was 58.2 percent.

It is worth noting that the 2002 freshman class was substantially larger, both in total numbers and in numbers of minority students, than was the 1992 class.

Certainly, some students leave WSU and then return later to get their degree. Others return later to another institution or pursue other personal opportunities to achieve successful lives and careers. However, the ranks of those who do not get degrees include many stories of lost human potential, of dreams delayed or denied. We need to do better.

WSU has worked hard to improve graduation rates. The university has sought students who are well-prepared and committed to succeeding at WSU.  The university has launched a number of targeted economic and academic support initiatives designed to enhance student success and which have had a positive impact on progress to graduation.

The state budget cuts and increasing costs of education clearly can conspire against these efforts.  But we are trying vigilantly to minimize those negative impacts and will be putting additional new strategies in place.

In upcoming months, you will be hearing more about the University College concept, a unit that will serve as an academic home for incoming students and for programs that support student success and retention. This will not require additional resources. Instead, it will reallocate existing resources within the Office of Undergraduate Education and the Office of Student Achievement to create a more seamless academic support environment for first-year and transfer students as they make the transition to life at WSU.

As the authors of this report state: “While student motivation, intent, and ability matter greatly when it comes to college completion, our analysis suggests that the practices of higher education institutions matter, too.”

We are committed, as an institution, to using best practices to help turn more of our incoming freshmen into proud WSU graduates.

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