University joins nation in looking to improve retention, graduation rates

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By Kelsey Stewart, News Editor

Joe McCampbell has been working for his bachelor’s degree for six years. Unexpected twists and turns set him on a longer than planned track to graduation.
McCampbell started out as a full-time student at Iowa Western Community College. As a recent high school graduate, he thought it would be a good transition to university living.

When McCampbell transferred to UNO in August of 2008, only nine of his credits made the switch.

“It was basically being part-time for one semester and not going the second, even though I was more than full-time in each semester,” McCampbell said.

During his second year at UNO, McCampbell found out he was having a son. With nine months to prepare for a new baby, school credits took a back seat.

With a child, McCampbell had to shift his priorities. It can be tough to balance work, school and family.

“The distraction of having a 2-year-old child at home is pretty difficult,” McCampbell said. “The noise, the clutter, Wreck-It Ralph for the 30th time in two days-all those things come into play when you’re trying
to get a project done.”

McCampbell isn’t alone in taking six years to graduate. In fact when he graduates on May 4, he joins 42.8 percent of UNO students who graduate within six years. UNO’s six-year graduation rate is posted online as part of the College Scorecard. 


The College Scorecard, launched in February by the Department of Education, is a tool providing students and families with critical information needed to make smart decisions about where to enroll for higher education.

In higher education, a six-year rate is common, said Dan Shipp, associate vice chancellor for student affairs.

“It’s something that nationally, higher education has used to really benchmark progress toward completion,” Shipp said.

The Scorecard was released as part of President Barack Obama’s efforts to hold colleges accountable for cost, value and quality.

“My administration will release a new College Scorecard that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck,” Obama said in his State of the Union Address.

The tool provides prospective students with options such as location, size, campus setting and degree and major programs.

Each school’s scorecard includes data on costs, graduation rates, loan default rates, average amount borrowed and employment.

Data will be updated periodically and the Department of Education plans to publish information on earnings potential in the coming year.

“It’s trying to provide some limited apples-to-apples representation so students and families can make informed choices,” Shipp said.

Shipp said the rate for UNO is accurate. In 2011, the six-year graduation rate was 43 percent, just a notch above the average in UNO’s peer groups. UNO’s four-year graduation rate is around 15 percent.

UNO has two peer groups, one that is Board of Regents approved and one that is made up of metropolitan and urban colleges and universities.

Being a metropolitan and urban university presents challenges for UNO, like students working several jobs and trying to balance full course loads.

Out of UNO’s graduating seniors, 75 percent are working. 40 percent of those working seniors are putting in 30 hours or more on the job.

“You can imagine what that means in terms of impacting your ability to study,” Shipp said.

One of those factors is the 60 percent of UNO students who are first generation students. First generation students don’t necessarily have the same advantages in navigating the college environment as their peers.

“We want our first generation students to be wildly successful here,” Shipp said. “That means we have to be sensitive to knowing that they might not have anybody at home that’s experienced this environment. We have to develop systems, services and programs to really support those students.”

A main factor in low graduation rates is the low percentage of students living on campus. Right now, 2,100 students live on campus.

“We still have very few of our total population that are actually living and learning together,” Shipp said. “We have a lot of students just out in the community.”

The College Scorecard posts that 30.4 percent of UNO students transferred to another institution. This, Shipp said, is largely because of the amount of pre majors UNO offers such as nursing and physical therapy.

These students complete their UNO experience but leave without getting degrees to go on to professional programs. 


While still slightly better than peer groups, Shipp said administrators aren’t satisfied with UNO’s graduation rates.

“It’s important for us to really take a look at our programs and services that we provide to our students and readjust them to help support our students to graduation,” Shipp said.

There’s more faculty and staff can do to help students on the path to graduation, Shipp said. But it takes student effort, too.

“One of the reasons I wanted to come to UNO is to…not just be an institution that is a percentage point or two above the average, but figure out a way for us to be the aspirant institution where our goal is to graduate all of our students,” Shipp said.

The University of Nebraska system has taken action to help students graduate more easily, too. Summer class offerings have been increased, the credit hour requirement for graduation has been lowered to 120 and general education core classes are more easily transferrable between colleges and universities.

The university is looking to implement more of a learning community system, like the Thompson Learning Community and the Goodrich program.

These programs provide communities and networks of peers to help each other through school.

“It’s kind of the buddy system to get to the other side,” Shipp said. “We use it in swimming, why don’t we do it for graduation?”

Shipp wants to create “lifeboats” for students. Lifeboats are the communities that will help students to graduation. “Lifeguards” are faculty and academic advisers looking out for students.

“We want more people with eyes on students who are trying to swim to graduation,” Shipp said. “When you start to learn how to swim, it’s nice to have people watching you.”

The university’s strategic enrollment plan has five initial strategies.

First, they will develop a pre-enrollment and early alert detection system. If students are struggling, they will find out and offer support.

Second, they will help improve financial advising and financial literacy programs.

Third, they will work with first-generation students and students of color to provide them with communities and connections to faculty and staff.

Fourth, they want to develop a culture of caring. This will get the entire campus community see student graduation as a top priority.

Finally, they are developing an academic and career development center. This center will open in the fall.

“It’s a one-stop shop for students that might be undecided,” Shipp said.

The center will help undecided students find a college where they can succeed and find career connections.

Overall, Shipp said they want UNO to be a leader among the system, its peer groups and the nation.

“We aspire to be a place where students come to get an amazing education and graduate to create positive change in the community,” Shipp said.

 

UNO’s College Scorecard

Primarily bachelor’s degree granting
Undergrad enrollment: 11,964

COST

  • $10,370 a year*
  • Price has increased 7.3 percent from 2007 to 2009.

     *Average net price for undergraduate in-state students.
     *Net price is what students pay after grants and scholarships are subtracted from the cost of attendance.

GRADUATION RATE*

  • 42.8 percent of full-time students received their bachelor’s degree within six years.
  • 30.4 percent transferred to another institution.

      * Graduation rate is based on undergraduates enrolled full-time and who have never enrolled in college before.

LOAN DEFAULT RATE

  • 7.5 percent of borrowers defaulted on their federal student loans within three years of entering payment.

MEDIAN BORROWING

  • Families typically borrow $13,500 in federal loans for undergraduate studies.
  • The federal loan payment over 10 years is approximately $155.36 per month.

      *Borrowing may be different

EMPLOYMENT

  • The U.S. Department of Education is working to provide information about the average earnings of former undergraduate students at UNO who borrowed federal student loans.

Information taken from whitehouse.gov/scorecard. Email comments or questions about the tool to collegescorecard@ed.gov.  
 

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