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UA: Grad rates not up enough

By Laura Ory
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
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Although administrators have boosted four-year graduation rates to 32 percent this year, they say the university is still failing to help students achieve the goal of earning a degree on time.

The increase of 32 percent, up from 23 percent in 1997, still falls far short of improving the possibility for students to finish in four years, officials said.

Hindrances such as class availability and a lack of financial aid are just a few of the problems the UA will have to tackle in order to increase the graduation rate another 13 percent within the next eight years.

President Peter Likins said that this year's 32 percent four-year graduation rate is not good enough.

"Every time a student comes to us hoping, dreaming that they will obtain a degree and then leave without achieving that goal, then we are falling short of our responsibilities," Likins said.

UA's Retention Coordinating Group will be working with each of the UA's colleges to study the progression of students during their time at the UA to remedy any obstacles that come between students and graduation, said Lynne Tronsdal, assistant vice president of Enrollment Management.

In April the group created a strategic retention master plan outlining the UA's plan for increasing retention and graduation rates, Tronsdal said.

The group found that many UA students, staff and faculty were unsatisfied with class registration, financial aid assistance, tuition costs and the quality of instruction.

Deena Davis, a theatre arts senior, said she would not be able to graduate in spring if she didn't take classes over the summer.

"I had a lot of problems with junior and sophomore registration. They don't offer enough sections of the classes in the theatre arts programs," Davis said.

Davis said she had to take 19 credit hours of classes during the last three years to get all the required credits she needed to graduate.

It takes UA students an average of five years to graduate, but Tronsdal said increasing the four-year graduation goal is preferred by students because it's cheaper and more expedient.

Likins agrees that the four-year graduation goal is important, but the most important thing is getting students to graduate when they're able to, not necessarily in four years.

Stacy Fleming, a mechanical engineering senior, said she found it nearly impossible for any engineering student to finish in four years.

"I only know one person who graduated in four years. I consider it a burden just because of increasing tuition," Fleming said.

Fleming said most engineering students aren't able to finish in four years because they aren't able to handle 17 units each semester and are not prepared to take the calculus class that the four-year engineering plan requires the first semester.

Tronsdal said the UA will be creating and improving intervention programs to assist struggling students or to assist students in moving toward graduation.

One program will include changing the exiting and re-entry process for students who leave the UA before graduating, Tronsdal said.

"Before, we hardly waved goodbye when they left," Tronsdal said.

Administrators want to create an exiting process to find out if students really want to leave before graduating, and if not, finding ways to help them stay enrolled or plan a return to the UA, Tronsdal said.

In addition to increasing the four-year graduation rates, the group also hopes to increase five-year graduation rates from 53 percent in 2004 to 65 percent, and six-year graduation rates from 57 percent in 2004 to 70 percent by 2013.

The group also plans to study the graduation rates of transfer students, Tronsdal said.

That's good news to Brianne Amend, a theatre arts senior, who plans on graduating in fall 2006.

Amend said she had to postpone her plans of graduating in four years afterhaving trouble registering for classes and losing credits that did not transfer from the university she attended in California her freshman year.

"I saw half my credits disappear. It was frustrating to be set back a year," Amend said. "It's going to have taken me six and a half (years) to get a bachelor's degree."

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