Sep 192007
 
Authors: Erik Myers

Four years has long stood as the traditional time spent during a student’s college career, from orientation to graduation. And, CSU students, on average, tend to graduate within those four years closer than neighboring universities.

While this is far from the case at regional universities, CSU-Pueblo has cooked up an offering to encourage its students to graduate earlier, using a tuition discount as an incentive.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education’s latest “Higher Education Guide”, released in 2005, showed graduation rates for students who had studied at a single university, starting their freshman year in 2001, that at CSU, 33.9 percent of graduates took four years, another 24.7 percent in five years, and 5.1 percent in six years.

There is, however, a different trend shown in universities near the state of Colorado. At the University of Wyoming, 26.2 percent graduated in four years, while 23.9 percent graduated in five years. At the University of Nebraska, 22.6 percent graduated in four years, and 32.5 percent in five years.

Graduation rates were even lower for regional universities, such as CSU-Pueblo: 17.6 percent took four years, 25.7 percent took five years, and 33.9 percent took six.

Russ Meyer, provost of CSU-Pueblo, explains that the student populations of such universities are of a non-traditional sort.

“Our numbers are going to be different from (CSU-Fort Collins’) numbers because we have a very different student body,” Meyer said. “Our average age here is about 26 or 27 for undergraduates. (CSU-Fort Collins) is closer to 19 or 20, as I recall.”

Meyer noted this particular statistic to show that there are a great deal of CSU-Pueblo students who tend to have full-time jobs outside of their classes, therefore available credit hours are limited.

There is, however, a new effort to battle this trend at CSU-Pueblo. To encourage students to graduate in four years, officials offered incoming freshmen the chance to save extra money by doing so; students in the program will receive a return on the tuition for their final semester, or $1,500, if their tuition is above such a rate. Freshmen enrolled in the program are required to sign a contract before their first semester.

“The contract says that they will follow their advisor’s advice and take the courses they’re supposed to take and stay on track,” Meyer said. “We as a university are obligated to offer the courses they need and give them good advice.”

Meyer said 2/3 (415 students) of CSU-Pueblo’s current freshmen class signed contracts. He says it’s too early to predict how the program will affect graduation rates.

Meyer said the program was born from the suggestions of the CSU system board members, and was created to encourage students to stay on track of their coursework and save money. But Meyer said he understood that for some students, it is just not possible, and the program isn’t designed to pressure.

“It’s in place mainly to encourage students to save money by graduating as early as possible.” Meyer said. “It’s not a pressure device; it’s a way of helping them keep track of what they need to do.”

Paul Thayer, assistant vice president for student affairs, said it was understandable that some students simply required more than four years before receiving their diplomas. Thayer noted that study abroad programs and particularly challenging coursework for certain majors (such as Engineering) are some of the reasons keeping students past the four-year mark.

Thayer noted, though, that CSU encourages students to graduate in four years, an effort that starts as soon as students consider CSU for college.

“(Four-year graduation) is in everyone’s interests,” Thayer said. “For students, they graduate in less time, so they’re paying less money. For the institution, we can more efficiently move students through and get them a quality education, and we can turn around and have another spot for another person.”

Thayer said the university will be watching CSU-Pueblo’s plan over the upcoming years to see its effectiveness, but Thayer thought students could easily be motivated without such incentives.

“We’re interested to see how that works, but honestly, I think the greatest incentive for a student to graduate efficiently is to get out without spending another year’s tuition.” Thayer said.

Senior reporter Erik Myers can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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