Graduation rates low nationwide; SUNY bucks trend

(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)
(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)

A recent report released by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that 46 percent of American college students do not graduate within six years of enrollment.

Dr. Elizabeth Schmitt, a professor in the department of economics at Oswego State, disputed the number given by this report due to some flaws in the collection of this data.

“Data that tracks full-time college students across their institutions (including transfer students) found a six-year graduation rate of 77 percent,” Schmitt said. “Overall completion rates are about 54 percent, but that includes part-time students that do have much lower graduations rates. This also gives us a clue as to the factors that lead to non-completion: life gets in the way. Part-time students are likely to face higher financial and scheduling challenges (family, job, military) that make it difficult to finish.”

Dr. Mehran Nojan, director of Institutional Research and Assessment and enrollment management officer at Oswego State, deals with the university’s enrollment projection, and reporting support for the school’s student retention programs.

“Oswego State’s six-year graduation rate has been consistently higher than 54 percent (46 percent not graduating is translated to 54 percent graduating),” Nojan said.

“There are many factors that contribute to Oswego State’s relatively high graduation rate,” Nojan said. “A few examples include: admission selectivity (student preparation for college work), a learner-centered environment, academic/residential support services/programs, attention to the importance of first-year retention and major/academic advisement.”

Nojan said that Oswego State has developed a portfolio of programs in order to improve the graduation rate. At the top of the list of programs that Nojan cited was Admission Selectivity. This program was designed to make sure that students are prepared for college-level work.

Nojan also cited scholarship programs as a means for improvement of the graduation rate. These programs “attract qualified students” into the university.

Also included in the list was the Oswego Guarantee. Within the Oswego Guarantee are four main guidelines that Oswego State promises to follow. The first is that entering freshman who are admitted to a degree program will have the classes that are necessary to fulfill the requirements of a baccalaureate degree within four academic years of full-time study available to them. The second is the same promise adapted to entering transfer students. The third guarantees that small classes will continued to be available to students. The last states that students who enter Oswego in the fall of each academic year will not experience cost increases in room and meal plans for the following four years.

Internship and COOP programs were included as well. These programs were created to help the students of Oswego State see how the work they are doing in college is relevant toward employment.

The Student Learning Outcomes Assessment allows for improvement to areas such as the quality of program offerings and curriculum requirements.

Oswego State also offers academic support services like tutoring to aid students who might have problems in certain academic areas.

Both Schmitt and Nojan stressed one last program: the First Year Academic Program. Nojan cited examples of first year programs, like First Choice and advisement. Schmitt made a broader statement.

“Graduation rates have risen as Oswego State has focused on the first year to build a solid foundation for student success,” Schmitt said.

Oswego State has also “increased the academic quality of our first year classes with more selective admissions.”

According to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, in 2010 Oswego State’s six-year graduation rate was 60 percent. SUNY Geneseo has had a consistently high six-year rate, totaling percentages in the high 70s since at least as far back as 2006. Both SUNY Brockport and SUNY Oneonta had a six-year rate of 65 percent in 2010.

“For the cohort of full-time freshman entering Oswego State in fall 2005, 57 percent completed their degree program within six years and our current information indicated graduation rate for the cohort of fall 2006 has been improved to 58 percent,” Nojan said.

Oswego State’s graduation rate has been steadily increasing in the last few years, as has its four-year rate.

“Similar improvement has been noted in our four-year graduation rate,” Nojan said. “The four-year graduation rate for the cohort of 2001 was 32 percent, as compared to the cohort of 2006, when the four-year graduation rate was 38 percent.”

Nojan spoke to a more accurate graduation rate for the current time, based on her knowledge.

“About 68 percent of the students who start at Oswego State do graduate,” Nojan said.

This percentage includes the students who started at Oswego State and then transferred to another institution. These students equate to the added 10 percent from the fall 2006 group of students.

Oswego State is highly ranked for its graduation rate.

“This… places Oswego State in the 78th percentile among all four-year public colleges and universities in the U.S.,” Schmitt said.