Associated Press, AP

Grad rates up at the U

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT
  • Star Tribune
  • December 10, 2011 - 4:33 PM

A timely change at the U Bully for the University of Minnesota for keeping its graduation rate climbing.

The latest stats -- 54 percent of students who started at the Twin Cities campus in 2007 earned degrees by 2011 -- are consistent with a trend of steady improvement in the past decade.

That didn't happen by accident.

Beginning with the Undergraduate Initiative launched 20 years ago by then-President Nils Hasselmo, succeeding university administrations have tried and tried again to get the school's undergrad completion rates out of the Big Ten cellar, where they stood in 2001.

Minnesota compares slightly better now, in part because Nebraska joined the Big Ten this year. The latest Minnesota grad rate stats should lead to a more impressive change in its standing.

It will also be a timely one. The heat is on colleges and universities around the country to improve their human capital output without a lot more financial input from state and federal governments.

President Obama has said he wants a 50 percent boost in the nation's annual production of new college graduates by 2020. His administration has sent states a passel of advice about how to get there -- undoubtedly borrowing from some of the strategies Minnesota has employed over the past two decades.

More and better student advising, earlier selection of majors, better admissions screening, and financial incentives to take full course loads have played a role in the change on the Twin Cities campus.

One other thing is bound to have helped: The U is more generous than it used to be with student financial aid. A major student aid fundraising push has made that possible. When students can afford to work fewer hours, they graduate sooner.

That experience ought to be instructive for the rest of the nation. It's possible to boost collegiate graduation rates, but it takes patience, persistence -- and, unavoidably, money.

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.


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