By Daniel Scarpinato
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday Apr. 19, 2002
Students who sign on to the Finish in Four program when entering UA graduate sooner on average than students who don't. But the total percentage of students graduating in four years has remained almost constant since before the program started, recently released data shows.
Forty percent of freshmen who entered the University of Arizona in 1997 and signed on to the Finish in Four program graduated last May. Only 26 percent of other students graduated in four years.
The gap between students who signed on and those who did not was consistent across the board despite major, race, grade point average or SAT score.
But the overall percent of those who graduated in four years continued to hover around 40 percent, moving up and down only a point or two each year.
The program was established in 1995 after the Arizona Board of Regents voiced concern in the early '90s about the low number of students who were graduating in four years.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, in 1993, 31 percent of undergraduates nationwide graduated after four years of work, down from 45 percent in 1977.
At public universities, only one-third of the students graduate in four years. Twice as many finish in four at private institutions.
The results of the Finish in Four program's first three years show that students who stay on the program graduate sooner on average, proof that all students can graduate in four years if they commit to it, said Lynne Tronsdal, associate dean of the University College.
"It's what students bring to the moment," she said. "If you're motivated, you're going to graduate in four."
Nevertheless, more than half of students still don't graduate in four years. That's why regents were concerned in 1995, Tronsdal said. At that time, officials not only implemented the Finish in Four program but also lowered the number of credits required to graduate and re-structured the general education system.
"Whether it's for financial reasons or because family is in another state, whatever the reason, we wanted to remove the obstacles and make it possible for students to graduate in four years," Tronsdal said.
But Jennifer Jordan, a music sophomore, said its "impossible" for her to graduate in four years, even if she did sign up for the Finish in Four program. Jordan said a one-credit music class can sometimes require five meetings a week for additional practice.
"I came here expecting to graduate in four years, but to put in the quality, you just can't do it," she said.
Students can graduate in four years, but they may have to take classes they didn't want to take, or at times, they didn't want to take them to meet the deadline, Tronsdal said.
Leticia Delgadillo, associate director of the Freshman Year Center, said if students commit to the Finish in Four program, it serves as a flag for advisers that students are interested in graduating in four years.
Tronsdal said when advisers see that flag, they alert students that their graduation could be postponed if they are thinking of changing their major, dropping a class or taking fewer classes.
"It's used as a map to graduation," said Vienna Marum, a business administration junior and senior academic adviser for the sociology department. "How they use that plan is up to the student."
Marum said that advisers in the sociology department are conscious of the program but realize students are not married to the plan.
She said that in the past, students could graduate in four years if they stayed on course with the program. But she added that with classes being cut, advisers are anticipating the possibility that some students may have to delay their graduation, although there has been no evidence of that happening so far.
Marketing senior Melissa Provenzano will graduate next month, managing to finish in four years.
"Its not that hard," she said. "You just need to be organized."
She said she took between 12 and 15 credits each semester and planned out her classes with an adviser. "My parents told me I had to be out in four years," Provenzano said.
Tronsdal said that's why the program was started - for students who have a minimal amount of time to graduate. With statewide budget cuts resulting in cut classes, Tronsdal said that challenge may get harder, but graduating in four is still possible.
"No matter what happens with tuition and budget cuts, students can do it," she said.
But when Jordan hears that from administrators she responds, "Heck on, it's not possible. Most expect to be here for at least five years."