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Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

From the Willamette Collegian: Graduation after 4 years unlikely for 29%

This story was originally published in The Willamette Collegian on Sept. 3, 2014. Katie Dobbs and Bronte Dod of Willamette University contributed reporting.


According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 71 percent of Willamette students who began pursuing their bachelor’s degrees in 2007 graduated in four years.

Vice President of Enrollment and University Communications Michael Beseda said that matching students with a college or university that fits their academic profile is important for ensuring student success.

“The best recipe for a college to have a student body that is retained and graduates and has a good experience is to make sure that the recruitment and admission program is identifying students who are looking for the intellectually challenging academics and engaging extra curricular life we offer,” Beseda said.

Research published on Aug. 6 by the American Educational Research Journal found that attending a more selective college does not improve a student’s chances of graduating in four years.

The study, conducted by Scott Heil and Paul Atwell of the City University of New York along with Lisa Reisel, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Social Research in Oslo, measured college selectivity by its enrolled students’ average SAT score.

“We find at best weak evidence that institutions raise, via academic selectivity, the graduation rates of students who otherwise would have lower chances of graduating,” Atwell, Heil and Reisel wrote.

The study suggests that graduation rates are tied to the characteristics of the students who are admitted.

According to the NCES and US News and World Report, Willamette’s four-year graduation rate is similar to other private colleges in the region. Both Lewis & Clark College and University of Puget Sound’s four-year graduation rate is reported to be 80 percent.

The difficulty of obtaining this information indicates that this graduation rate may be less than ideal. It raises the question: why aren’t students graduating on time?

“Financial reasons for sure,” Director of Residence Life Elizabeth Trayner said. “Thinking of the students that I know who have left the institution, there have been those that have left due to personal circumstances, anxiety and academic reasons.”

Senior politics major Mitchell Colvin is planning on staying an extra semester to finish his degree.

“The co-signer for my student loans freshman year cancelled the loans before they were dispersed and I owed a lot of money so I didn’t come back for second semester,” Colvin said.

Trayner said that it is unlikely for Willamette students to have difficulty graduating in four years without the administration intervening.

Trayner referred to resources available for students that find themselves in challenging situations.

“I worked with the financial aid department and they wiped the debt that I owed and increased my financial aid package significantly so I will be able to graduate a semester late,” Colvin said.

Exercise science major Katy Kaszubinski will also be graduating later than she anticipated when she started at Willamette in the fall of 2009. Due to issues obtaining credits and extenuating circumstances, she had to stay two extra semesters and will be presenting her thesis this fall.

“No one wants to talk about being here a fifth year so [the problem] is not being addressed,” Kaszubinski said. “Thirty percent is not a small number.”

Kaszubinski said that the problems that have plagued her friends at state universities such as class availability and administrative hurdles are also affecting Willamette students.

“More times than not [the administration] is getting in the way of you graduating in four years,” she said. “I know people that volunteer and get real world experience that’s twice as enlightening and they don’t get credit for that.”

The issue of the University’s graduation rates is listed in the President’s Strategic Plan.

“Metrics will be chosen to track … summative measures (retention rates and four year graduation rates, survey of overall satisfaction at graduation),” the report said.

Vice President and Executive Assistant to the President Kristen Grainger said that the University wants all Willamette students to graduate in four years. Faculty and administrators have been working to identify the problems that contribute to Willamette students not being able to complete their degrees in four years.

“Renewed focus on improving our 71 percent four-year graduation rate also has resulted in new strategies, such as the Compass program that is part of the new Knowledge to Action initiative at CLA,” Grainger said.

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