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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Graduation rates rise, but trail some peers

Earning a UW degree

With 2012 graduation under two months away, UW-Madison administrators hope to build on last year’s university record four-year graduation rate of 55.5 percent.

Although that ranks UW-Madison third among Big Ten schools and is almost double the national average, some students still find the rate surprisingly low.

UW-Madison freshman Tara Abernathy works 14 hours every two weeks and most of her summer to pay her tuition. She is unnerved by her indecision on what discipline of engineering to focus on, but feels pressure to graduate within four years because of the cost.

“[55 percent is] low,” she said. “That shows that something should be done.”

Administrators are pleased with the growth and say the university has done a good job helping students finish school in as little time as possible.

Increased financial aid and better advising have both contributed to rising four-year rates over the last five years, according to Jocelyn Milner, UW-Madison associate vice provost and director of Academic Planning and Analysis.

She said there is a growing conversation about new teaching methods, such as the “flipped classroom,” which she thinks will help continue the recent trend.

In this setting, students would come to lecture having read the material and have a discussion in class, which Milner thinks will help students learn and improve comprehension in lower-level classes to improve the likelihood of success in upper-level classes.

Recent changes to classrooms in Wendt and College Libraries are an example of this type of learning for pre-calculus classes.

UW-Madison Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies Sara Goldrick-Rab is not satisfied with the 55.5 percent rate, and said the university should set its own expectations rather than base success on comparisons with other schools.

“We should decide what proportion of our students ought to finish in four years and we ought to figure out how to get there,” Goldrick-Rab said. “We can pat ourselves on the back for doing better than average, average is like a C. Really, 55 percent gets you an A? Would you give yourself an A for 55 percent?”

According to Goldrick-Rab, some at the university are talking about a five-year plan becoming the norm rather than the traditional four years.

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“If we start telling you that you’re going to get a four-year [degree], and then you start to think that then you’re going to get disappointed,” she said.

Admissions standards have increased over the same period of time as the graduation rates, which Goldrick-Rab said means UW-Madison accepts students who are more likely to graduate regardless of any additional resources the university provides.

The students who had high achievement in high school and did well on college entrance exams likely have a stronger support system outside the university, and could have graduated almost anywhere, she said.

Such students skew the numbers and the university shouldn’t take credit for their success, Goldrick-Rab said.

“How much better are [UW-Madison students] that they have us?” she said.

Vice Provost for Enrollment and Management Joanne Berg acknowledged the higher admissions standards as a “contributing factor” to growing graduation rates, but said influences from both the administration and the students themselves contribute to four-year graduation rates.

“It really takes a coordinated effort to look at all of the different pieces,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any one magic bullet.”

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