Sunday, November 20, 2005

They Still Don't Get It

There was another article a few weeks ago about the continued efforts of the UT System regents to try and get students to graduate "on time."
At five of the system's nine undergraduate campuses, less than 37 percent of full-time freshmen who started college in fall 1997 received a bachelor's degree from the school within six years. The statewide six-year graduation rate is 52 percent, while the national rate is about 55 percent.

The UT System's four-year graduation rates are even worse.

Just 4.5 percent of UT-El Paso students who entered as freshmen in fall 1999 graduated on time. UT-San Antonio's four-year graduation rate was 6.1 percent for that period, while UT-Pan American's was 8.4 percent.
The problem is, using the old four-year idea as their standard of timeliness is horribly outdated; the real world just doesn't work like that anymore.

I've posted on this subject before, because it really irritates me that the old-school thinking of the regents (and state legislators, who have tried to pass "professional student" bills in the past--bills that would actually penalize students for not finishing "on time") is so far removed from new-school reality. I see it at the community college level all the time; I haven't taken a scientific survey or anything, but experience has shown that many of my traditional students are either working multiple jobs to eke out a living on their own while going to school or working to try and get out of their parents' houses and/or transfer to a four-year school. Certain specialized degrees, like my music education undergrad (currently set at a minimum of 139 credit hours), have only been four-year degrees on paper for years now, and, because of the rising cost of tuition and the necessity of working through school for many more students, most other degrees are headed that way.

I'm not the only one who realizes this; another local college professor takes the regents to task for their antiquated views in a letter today:
It's clear that these University of Texas regents – rich, old political appointees – have never met a modern college student.

I teach at a state university and can tell you that my students often work full time, take care of a family or deal with medical crises. As tuition and fees rise, fewer students can afford full-time college. Few have parents who support them.
--Susan P. Chizeck, UT-Dallas
Prof. Chizeck goes on to say that it's not likely that graduation rates will speed up until financial aid is increased, and today's reality is often that it has in fact decreased. Plus, many students would rather work their way through school than be faced with a mountain of student-loan debt after graduation.

As I said before, sure, there are some slackers in there, but the majority of long-term students are just trying to balance their studies with paying for those studies as best they can. Besides, these students aren't really "taking up space" at their colleges; if the school is getting "full" and doesn't want to turn away new students, there are several ways to serve everyone, including adding more night classes, and yes, maybe even adding more classroom space. After all, in the logical world, more students = more tuition money, and there shouldn't be a reason that such extra money couldn't go to making the school's physical plant bigger.

At any rate, I'm glad someone called these people out on their misguided views. Perhaps all regents should be required to spend a week on their respective campuses (apart from their regular meetings), talking with students and seeing what college life is really like in this day and age. Hmm--this sounds suspiciously like the same reason that administrators should also teach. I sense a pattern here...

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to Jim--my friend, fraternity brother, teaching colleague and occasional Musings commenter.


Very anonymous JP said...

Thanks Kev!

Shawn said...

Punishing students is incredibly ridiculous... especially when I'll be getting all into that since I figure I'll be a Texas resident within a few years of my "standard four". I play it safe and say 5, but I'm an over achiever - we'll just have to see how it goes... but punishing them for not graduating because their busy saving the world? Unacceptable.

Jazzy G said...

If you think about it.. they're upset with students giving them more money. I'm not talking credit hour money.. but those random fees that add up to around $1,000 each semester. The more time a student spends working on their degree, means that much more money for the schools.