SIUC graduation rates near bottom of Illinois ranks

By Gus Bode

Administration working on Plans to remedy situation

If recent figures are any indication, only two of five freshmen enrolled at SIUC this fall will graduate from the University within six years, one of the lowest graduation rates among Illinois public universities.

SIUC’s graduation rate, which Chancellor Walter Wendler said has remained steady for decades, is currently 39 percent, according to an NCAA study that began during the 1996-97 academic year. The study detailed the graduation rates for the student population compared to student-athletes, which showed SIUC student-athletes graduate at a clip 18 percent higher than the rest of the student body.

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Of the 4,745 freshmen who entered SIUC in 1996, slightly less than 40 percent received a degree over a six-year period, a number Wendler said is not representative of the University’s situation.

“It’s certainly lower than we would like, but this is also a University that caters to a lot of different areas,” Wendler said. “We have a lot of non-traditional students that have to find a way to balance work and family as well as school, and that can bring down that average.”

While it currently hovers 20 percent below the 59-percent national average and trails several of its peer institutions, the University is taking anything but an apathetic approach toward the graduation of its students, Wendler said.

“It is true that it’s always floated somewhere between 38 percent and 40 percent,” Wendler said. “But our ultimate goal is to get to 60 percent, which is admittedly a pretty lofty goal. We’d like to see a lot more students who start here complete their degree in six years, preferably four, but we also have to be realistic with our expectations.”

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign topped the list of state schools with an 80-percent graduation rate, followed by Eastern Illinois University at 66 percent, recently named one of the top Midwest public universities by U.S. News & World Report, and Illinois State University at 57 percent.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Larry Dietz is spearheading the effort to boost the University’s graduation rate, which is already in full swing. The University was recently the recipient of a grant from the Department of Education, which Dietz said would go toward outlining a plan to increase retention.

“We’re in the process of forming a team of faculty and students to help write the plan, which we hope to continue on a yearly basis,” Dietz said. “Hopefully, this will serve as a launching pad for some of the other programs that are already underway.”

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The University has already taken several steps to curb its retention dilemma, Dietz said, with the most prominent examples being the Center for Basic Skills, the Saluki Advantage Program and the course University 101, designed to help undecided freshmen chart a career path.

SIUC’s proposed remedies are not that divergent from those already in progress at other state schools.

Illinois State Registrar Carolyn Bartlett attributed her school’s ranking to newly implemented programs designed to boost freshman retention rates. She said Illinois State recently began requiring incoming freshmen to participate in what administrators have dubbed “foundation of inquiries,” courses intended to acclimate students to the college curriculum.

“They’re kind of unique courses in that they help students design skills in argumentation, writing, critiquing and studying great authors,” Bartlett said. “It also helps them become better acquainted with the campus and avoid the pitfalls that new students can often fall into.”

In addition to targeting freshmen, Bartlett said another key factor in lifting graduation rates is a school’s ability to remain active in its pursuit of transfer students. Of the 1,800 transfer students enrolled at Illinois State this fall, Bartlett said 900 took part in a non-credit course that focused on adjusting to a new university.

“There are many different issues that students need to be able to articulate in order to make the transition,” she said. “We’re not as well-engineered for transfer students as we are for new students, but being well-focused on students is what makes that a minor detail.”

One detail administrators at SIUC are looking into is the possibility of increasing the University’s admission standards. The current criteria for prospective students is an ACT score of 21 or above or an ACT score of 18 or above combined with a class rank in the upper half of their high school graduating class.

Dietz said his office is currently mulling over the idea but could not speculate on what the new standards might be if enacted. Whether or not the University makes the switch to stiffer admission standards, Dietz said he and his subordinates are up to the task of generating results.

“If there was just one thing that we could do that would solve the whole problem, it wouldn’t be an issue,” Dietz said. “But it’s much more complex than that.”

Reporter Andy Horonzy can be reached at [email protected]

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