Staying longer than expected
Mich. students remain in college 5 to 6 years, increase graduation rates
Physiology senior Nicole Daugerdas came to MSU expecting to graduate in four years, only to realize she will put in five years by the time she graduates. “I think everybody plans on coming here for four years,” she said. “I don’t think anybody plans on staying for six. … Paying out-of-state tuition, I definitely planned on coming for four years.”
Daugerdas represents a number of students across the state who spend more time in college and take longer to graduate, contributing to higher graduation rates of students who graduate in five or six years.
For students who began their studies at MSU in 2002, the overall graduation rate is 75 percent, which represents the six-year graduation rate used by most colleges and universities.
This six-year standard has become the norm among academic communities, as students such as Daugerdas are spending more time in school and taking longer to graduate.
“You look to see over what period of time … that group of students, all of them in that cohort finally graduate,” said Doug Estry, associate provost for undergraduate education. “That’s the graduation rate … the 75 percent, then, is pretty good.”
The most recent graduation rate for the University of Michigan is 88 percent, followed by Central Michigan University at 57 percent, Grand Valley State University at 56 percent and Western Michigan University at 55 percent.
MSU’s rates have improved from a 66 percent graduation rate for students who began their studies in 1991 to the 75 percent it is experiencing now.
“There’s always the question of: ‘Could we be better?’ Yes,” Estry said. “We’ve been improving.”
Grand Valley State’s graduation rates increased about 10 percent during the past 12 years, from 46 percent to 56 percent, said Lynn McNamara Blue, vice provost and dean of academic services and information technology at Grand Valley State.
“We’ve really improved over the past decade and purposely,” she said. “We have been working on time to graduation and student success.”
Behind the numbers
“If you were to interview every one of the freshmen coming to our campus each fall … (almost 100) percent assume they will have a bachelor’s degree in four years,” Blue said.
University officials said busy work schedules, changing majors and crowded classrooms, among other issues, often hold students back from graduating when they originally expected, leading to higher rates for students graduating in six years.
“Ideally, we would like to see all of our students graduate in eight semesters,” Estry said. “(There are) things that might impact your ability to do that.”
Daugerdas said her busy work schedule got in the way of her graduation plans and has prolonged her stay at MSU.
“I worked way too much to not be studying enough,” she said.
The economy might not deter students from pursuing an education and, in fact, could keep them in school longer, preventing them from dropping out, MSU economics professor Charles Ballard said.
“When the economy is bad, sometimes people will say, ‘Well, I was going to try to get a job, but it looks like it’s hard to get a job, so I’ll stay in school if I can,’” he said.
Students who attend less selective universities by choice mostly because they cannot afford high tuition prices at other institutions, are undermatched, said Matthew Chingos, co-author of the book, “Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities.”
This could negatively affect graduation rates, he said.
“If you go somewhere where only half of the kids are graduating, you’re just one of the crowd of drop-outs,” he said.
A university student in Chingos’ book said graduating in four years is like leaving a party at 10:30 p.m.
University officials across the state are attempting to change this mentality as they look for ways to ensure that students do graduate in a timely manner, which they say lies both in the students and the institutions.
Creating a better first-year experience for students so they are more connected to the university and ensuring a smooth transition from high school might impact graduation rates, Estry said.
“We’re hoping that we will see an impact down the road, but obviously it takes time to see that,” he said.
Applicants are reviewed to admit students who are most likely to succeed at MSU, said James Cotter, the director of MSU’s Office of Admissions.
“The level of preparation at which the student arrives on campus … the quality of their (high school) curriculum and the quality of their high school experience (have the greatest impact),” he said.
As the quality of the students who are admitted to MSU improves, so will the graduation rates, Estry said.
“In the end, it’s hoping that students who start here graduate,” Cotter said.