A recent study found the number of American students who finish college is diminishing, but TCU, which has rising rates, is bucking this trend, said the director of Scholarships and Student Financial Aid, Michael Scott.The study, which was conducted by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, found 51 percent of full-time, first-time students in Texas colleges graduate within six years- – a graduation rate 13 percent below the national average.
However, with a 69.3 percent graduation rate in 2005, TCU’s rate is slightly higher than the national average of 63 percent, said Cathy Coghlan, assistant director of Institutional Research.
The graduation rate is based on the national standard of students who complete their degrees within six years.
TCU ranks slightly behind Baylor and Southern Methodist universities, which have respective graduation rates of 71 percent and 72 percent, Coghlan said. Ideally, TCU should have rates equal to or better than those of similar colleges, Coghlan said.
“There is definitely room for improvement, but I wouldn’t say that our graduation rate is a problem,” Scott said.
TCU’s graduation rates have been consistently improving, with a nearly 5 percent increase in the last five years, according to the 2005 TCU Factbook.
The rate of students who complete their degrees in four years is 47.5 percent, which is significantly lower than the six-year completion rate, though the five-year graduation rate was slightly higher at 67.5 percent, Coghlan said.
There are many factors that lead to students not completing their degrees, Scott said.
In spring of 2005, the university started an initiative, Successful Graduation, to focus on significantly decreasing the number of undergraduates who don’t return. The initiative is still in the research stages, and results won’t be seen for a couple of years, but, Coghlan said the initiative aims to improve undergraduate retention within the next five years.
The major issue the initiative is focusing on is freshman-sophomore retention because that’s the time period where most students are lost, Scott said.
There are also specific at-risk groups that have a history of leaving school, he said. These groups include out-of-state students and high-achieving students who leave to attend other universities with different programs.
Cost and time are also issues that lead to students not completing their degrees, Scott said.
The extra time many students are taking to finish their degrees is costly, not only to students but to the university as well, he said.
“It causes problems with class availability and class size when people stay for a fifth year,” Scott said.
People often have to stay for a fifth year because of a change in major, Scott said.
“I changed my major in college,” he said. “But the problem is that people are waiting until the end of their junior year to switch majors, and that’s too late.”
Lizzie Hyde, a fifth-year interior design major, said she changed her major to during her sophomore year.
“Interior design is a four-year program,” Hyde said. “You can’t take it any faster.”
Another reason people aren’t finishing is because they aren’t taking a full load of classes, Scott said.
“Tuition is the same whether you take 12 or 18 hours,” he said. “It makes sense to take as many hours as you can and get out early. I don’t understand why students don’t take advantage of that.”
Hyde took a full load of classes every semester except for this one, she said.
“Having the extra time this semester is a nice break before I have to enter the real world,” Hyde said.