Graduation rates at UW-Madison have been steadily increasing over the past few years — and university officials attribute this to advising.
Data from the Academic Planning and Institutional Research Department show an increase in the four-year graduation rate, from 55.5 percent in the 2011-’12 academic year to 60.7 percent in 2016-’17. The six-year graduation rate increased 1.3 percent — to 85.2 percent — over the same time period.
Despite the increase in overall graduation rates, APIR’s most recent data — for the fall 2013 cohort — showed the four-year graduation rate for African Americans was just 38.1 percent. Additionally, the graduation rate for Native American students in 2014 was 50 percent, and the rate for Hispanic students in 2013 was 47.4 percent. The four-year graduation rate for white students in 2013 was 64 percent.
Overall graduation rates have remained steady, however.
Jocelyn Milner, vice provost of Academic Affairs and APIR director, attributed the increasing overall rates to advising efforts on campus. Milner said that once the Office of Undergraduate Advising was created in 2011, advisors became better trained and more specialized in their fields.
Milner said the university’s focus on career advising has also played a role in keeping students on track to graduate. Efforts to connect students with career opportunities, like the College of Letters and Science’s recently announced SuccessWorks center, give students incentives to continue their studies, she said.
“When students start to see what is next for them, it helps them complete and move on to the next thing,” Milner said. “The career initiatives are helping with that.”
According to Milner, the university’s continuing improvement of entry-level courses through programs such as REACH — which aims to transform lecture-based courses into more active and inclusive environments — helps retain students, which in turn contributes to graduation rate.
The retention rate of first-year students is over 95 percent and has increased by about one and a half percent since 2012.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank touted UW-Madison’s retention rate at a recent event, claiming it as one of the highest in the country and well above the Big Ten average.
“It reflects our commitment to teaching undergraduates,” Blank said. “It is one of the things that struck me from the day I walked through the door — it’s how many of our faculty are deeply engaged with undergraduates at the university.”
The university’s “pretty substantial increase” in investment in financial aid over the past several years has allowed more students to stay in school and therefore graduate, Milner said.
UW-Madison has increased the number of undergraduate need-based grant dollars funded internally by the university by nearly $30 million, according to 2016-’17 university budget report.
Although Milner mainly attributed UW-Madison’s success in retaining and graduating students to advising services and financial aid opportunities, she said students tend to stay at the university because of their positive experiences.
“Overall, I think they have a good learning experience,” she said. “I think we have fantastic students, and they come and make a good learning experience.”