Within 5 years, UA officials want 70 percent graduation rate


By Isabel Dobrin

The Razorback Reporter

UA officials are working to increase six-year graduation rates by tackling academics, the associate vice chancellor for graduation and retention said.

Officials in the Office for Graduation and Retention have worked with Student Support Services to create the Center for Learning and Student Success, or CLASS +. The center helps students directly with academics, but it also helps lead them to graduation, Trevor Francis said.

Officials launched the center after the UofA fell short of its goal of a 66 percent graduation rate in 2015. In May, 62.5 percent of first-time, full-time degree-seeking students graduated. The long-term goal is a 70 percent graduation rate by 2021. Increased graduation rates will enhance the UofA’s reputation and contribute to the goal of becoming a top 50 public research university, Francis said.

The six-year graduation rate nationally, based on enrollment demographics, should be 67 percent, according to U.S. News and World Report.

“If we can solve semester-to-semester retention, then you’re solving the graduation issue because you’re getting students to persist and then through degree completion,” Francis said.

Before the creation of CLASS +, students gained access to academic resources such as the Enhanced Learning Center and the Quality Writing Center separately online and at several campus locations. CLASS + creates a one-stop academic support office for students.

“There was a general restructuring because we want to make it as easy for students to take advantage of the services that we offer,” said Charlotte Lee, the senior director for the center.  “It was an effort to consolidate so students can find help in one place instead of having to go to three or four different locations or three or four different websites.”

Located on the first floor of Gregson Hall, the center offers tutoring, supplemental instruction, writing support and academic coaching, all of which make up the “+” in the center’s name.

Kristen Karpinski, a learning coach in the center, meets one-on-one with students to help them develop study plans and good study habits.

“Primarily we meet with students who are having difficulty or concerns about their academic progress here,” Karpinski said.

Students used academic support services more than 122,000 times last year. Officials in the Office for Graduation and Retention saw restructuring CLASS + as a way to better improve a resource that many students already use, Francis said.

With the help of the Office for Graduation and Retention, the center opened in October.

The Office for Graduation and Retention, which is charged with researching and implementing strategies to increase graduation, was created in the fall of 2014 in response to the provost’s Quality Initiative Proposal, a three-year plan dedicated to increasing graduation rates.

Some of the changes that have resulted from the proposal include the upgrades to online academic networks, including the Integrated Student Information System, Blackboard and UASuccess. In January, ISIS will be renamed UAConnect, and officials will integrate the three academic networks to improve accessibility for students.

The proposal also calls for a study of the advising process at each college, as well as adviser training.

CLASS + can help academic success, but other factors contribute to graduation, Francis said.

“Students have the option when they withdraw to do an exit survey,” Francis said. “By far the largest category that they select is personal. Some will leave because they’ve taken full-time jobs and they’re going to try to finish up their degrees online through the UofA; some will leave because of financial struggles.”

B.J. Watson, who came to the UofA in fall 2012 from Cascilla, Mississippi, left after the first semester of his sophomore year when he didn’t meet the GPA requirements to keep his scholarship.

“That was when the out-of-state tuition came in,” Watson said. “I still got loans and grants, but my scholarship was gone.”

Even with outside help, Watson said he still couldn’t afford to stay.

“Even though I did well the following summer session and the fall of my sophomore year, because of the financial hold on my account, I couldn’t return,” Watson said.

Watson is working at Starbucks on campus while he saves enough money to return, he said.

“I’m patient,” Watson said. “Once we get that sorted out, I’ll go back.”

Francis said that UA officials work to help students remain, whether the issue is academic, financial or personal.
“We have a lot of people who really want to help students reach their goals,” Francis said.