Local colleges contemplate ways to raise graduation rates

Helping low-income students, choosing a major, college readiness among factors.

Credit: Erin Pence

Credit: Erin Pence

Area college graduations comes to a close this weekend and a look at graduation rates for three public four-year, local universities show wide variations in graduation rates.

Central State University, which holds commencement activities today, had one of the lowest graduation rates in the state for the group of students entering college in 2014, at 31% over a six-year period, according to the latest Ohio Department of Higher Education data.

Miami University, also holding graduation today, had Ohio’s second-highest graduation rate, at 78%, according to ODHE. Wright State University had s 46% graduation rate over the same period.

Comparing the universities is not an apple to apple comparison as Miami, CSU and WSU all serve different populations with different needs. Wright State and Central State have significantly more low-income students than Miami University, for example.

But as tuition costs continue to rise, all of the schools said they have the same goal of graduating students as soon as possible.

Miami University

Amy Bergerson, associate provost and dean for undergraduate education at Miami University, said the university is proud of its graduation rate.

“But we also know that there’s room for improvement,” she said. “Part of what we’re doing here is trying to identify where we can make incremental improvements on that already great rate.”

Some college students get to college unprepared and need to take remediation classes, most often in math and English, which catch students up to college standards. Those classes can get students behind because the remediation classes need to be taken before the students get into their major.

For Miami’s students, less than 1% of first-year students need remediation classes, Bergerson said, which is extremely low.

According to a report from Education Reform Now, a national left-leaning think tank that focuses on education reform, particularly for low-income and minority students, about 11% of students were using Pell Grants between school years 2014-2015 and 2017-2018. Pell Grants are federal grants that help people with a demonstrated financial need pay for college.

Bergerson said Miami plans to work on expanding college access to lower-income people and people of color and is building infrastructure to help students feel welcome and succeed.

But Bergerson said part of improving the graduation rate will be helping students pick majors early. The sooner the student can establish a sense of purpose, the more likely they can focus on that and motivate themselves, she said.

The university is working to help students identify what majors they might be interested in during their freshman year and give their students a map for what succeeding in that major could look like, she said.

Wright State

About 41% of WSU students are Pell Grant eligible, said Susan K. Schaurer, vice president for enrollment management at WSU.

“Oftentimes, we know our students come in with an intention that their degree may take longer because they are contributing to family finances,” she said. “They are paying from income earned while they are working full time.”

Schaurer said since money can be a barrier for Wright State students, the university made the Take Flight Program available for students last fall who had high school grade point average of 3.2 or higher and an Expected Family Contribution of $2,000 or less on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The program will be available again this fall, she said.

Schaurer said about 51% of WSU students in the last academic year required remediation classes.

“Wright State has tried to position its mindset so that, instead of asking if our students are ready for Wright State, we are trying to ready ourselves as a student ready university, meaning that we are ready and prepared and have the programming and support to ensure that students who enroll at our institution are prepared and have the resources they need to graduate,” she said.

Central State

Central State’s graduation rate improved when comparing students who entered as freshman from 2012-14 from 26% in 2012, 29% in 2013 and 31% in 2014. But all three years, the percentage was among the lowest in the state.

Central State didn’t respond to questions about the university’s graduation rate. But the historically Black university has a high percentage of students who are eligible for Pell Grants. Similar to Wright State, those students will face additional financial barriers to getting a degree.

According to a report from Education Reform Now, a national left-leaning think tank that focuses on education reform, particularly for low-income and minority students, Central State had the highest percentage of students among select Ohio institutions – 87% - using Pell Grants between the school year 2014-2015 and 2017-2018. On average, about 29% of Ohio college students were enrolled in Pell Grants in that time period, according to the same report.

Graduation rates

Percentage of students who began at that university as freshmen in 2014 and who earned s degree by 2020

Bowling Green State University 60%

Central State University 31%

Cleveland State University 53%

Kent State University at Kent 63%

Miami University-Oxford 78%

Ohio State University-Main Campus 83%

Ohio University-Main Campus 66%

Shawnee State University 28%

University of Akron Main Campus 46%

University of Cincinnati-Main Campus 68%

University of Toledo 52%

Wright State University-Main Campus 46%

Youngstown State University 47%

Source: Six-year Success measures from the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

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