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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Graduation rates should not be dictated by bottlenecks and course restrictions

By Jordan Carlson


Only 41 percent of college students manage to graduate in four years.

On average, U.S. college students are taking six years to graduate with a four-year Bachelor’s degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. At Western, this average is a bit lower at 4.4 years to graduate for incoming freshman — but that all depends on your major.

This average differs from the census of Western’s associate director of institutional research, Sharon Schmidtz, who said, “I would say our four-year rate tends to be low and our six-year rate is very high.”

The so-called four-year “myth” that students can no longer acquire a Bachelor’s degree in the standard four years needs to be broken. The myth exists in the first place because, for one, attending university is extremely expensive. But also, for most majors at Western, the 180-credit requirement is manageable by taking (more or less) 15 credits every quarter.

If you want to major in computer science here at Western, watch out, because there will be obstacles every step of the way. The major is one of the many facing registration bottlenecks, causing students to defer their education or switch majors entirely.   

Even worse, the computer science department restricts high-credit students from registering for some entry-level courses except during summer quarter in response to high demand. This means transfer students who need these courses can’t take them, or won’t be able to for a long time.

It doesn’t make much sense that someone who has already spent years acquiring credits from another school is penalized for having too many credits, and it doesn’t make sense that only freshman-status students have easier access to their career choice.

Transfer students are getting the short end of the stick, when many come from community colleges in the first place to save money before moving on to a four-year university.

Instead, Western prioritizes freshman-status students, who will spend more years at Western and thus, more money. And now, transfer students will be stuck spending money on useless classes until their required classes are available.

In a Q&A with Western’s President Sabah Randhawa in April, addressing systemic issues in courses and removing major caps was brought up as an important issue, though no major changes have been made yet.

Of course, there are many reasons why students aren’t graduating in four years — health issues, studying abroad, working part-time or full-time, etc. But studies have shown that the longer it takes to complete higher education, the less likely a student will graduate. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, a quarter of students drop out after four years, money being a major factor.

Taking six years to attain a degree can set students back thousands of dollars. For an in-state student at Western, that’s approximately $49,074 for tuition and fees, excluding any financial aid.

When it’s a course bottleneck problem or any other fault of the school, it’s simply not fair and not affordable to essentially hold students’ degrees hostage.

While Western hasn’t solved many of these problems, an online advising tool called Degree Works is being prepared for early next quarter, designed to help student planning and advising. The program will display GURs and major requirements to help students plan for their future.

But some problems, such as registration restrictions, cannot be solved by students alone.

One solution is multi-term registration. Instead of registering from quarter to quarter, students should be encouraged to register several quarters in advance, which would make it easier for Western — and other institutions — to plan out course availability and schedules as well as incite planning and organization among students.

Given how relatively simple integrating this full-year model would be, along with the potential for higher enrollment and graduation rates, Western needs to adopt some kind of a new system for better student success. 

Because that’s what is most important.


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