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Cleveland Plain Dealer...
Improving graduation rates at Ohio’s public universities a priority for Gov. John Kasich, Chancellor Jim Petro  
January 23, 2012 

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Ohio’s public four-year colleges don’t have a problem attracting students, but keeping them enrolled long enough to get a degree continues to pose a challenge.

About 56 percent of students who enrolled full time as freshmen in 2004 had earned degrees six years later, according to the Ohio Board of Regents. That’s just about the national average. 

Retaining and graduating more students is a top priority for Gov. John Kasich and Chancellor Jim Petro, the head of the state’s higher-education system. Petro told the Ohio Board of Regents last week that he plans to implement several innovative programs this year -- even if university officials oppose them. 

“Clearly there has to be a motivational weakness that causes a student to start college and not finish,” Petro said. “The notion is to give recognition at every stage of the program.” 

He proposes a pilot project giving students a Certificate of Career Readiness if they attend college for one year and pass a standardized test. That would help them if they leave school and look for a job, Petro said. 

After two years of study, a qualified student would receive an associate degree, even at four-year universities. 

And community-college students, who often work or have family obligations, would be offered year-round block scheduling in their academic area. For example, they could attend school from 8 a.m. to noon five days a week for 18 months and receive an associate degree. 

“Every day I wake up and wonder, ‘What can we do to get more degrees and complete degrees?’ “ Petro told the regents. “Only 36 percent or 37 percent of Ohioans have two- or four-year degrees. Ohio’s economic fortune is tied to our initiative.” 

Kasich agrees. 

In a recent meeting with Plain Dealer editors and reporters, he said he has told college leaders to make a pledge to students. 

“Don’t enroll students without being committed to graduating them,” the governor said. 

Petro told the regents that while many factors affect whether a student graduates, colleges have to address what he considers the main barriers. 

“The first is time,” he said. “The longer it takes, the less likely someone will get a degree. Next is choice. We are giving students too many choices.” 

He also said schools have to make it clearer to students how to achieve a degree. 

“The degree is the deal -- not the major,” the chancellor said. 

Petro said he plans to implement his “Roadmap to Success” first as pilot programs at Central State University and Shawnee State University, the public schools with the lowest graduation rates. He was ordered last year by the state legislature, which provides financial supplements to those two institutions, to develop plans for the schools to improve. 

Petro hopes to expand the program to other universities with low graduation rates, including Cleveland State University and the University of Akron. 

CSU President Ronald Berkman and University of Akron President Luis Proenza have said they believe the benchmark to measure graduation rates is flawed because it is based on first-time full-time freshmen students. Most of their students attend part-time, drop out and return, or transfer in. 

But they acknowledge that they want more students to graduate. Their universities, and others across the state, are implementing numerous programs to address the issue, including a method that allows students to track their academic progress and intensive advising through which students are contacted weekly to make sure they are on track for a degree. 

Both Berkman and Proenza said Petro’s ideas have merit. 

“A lot of four-year universities think associate degrees mean they have lower standards, but in the sense it will give [students] a milestone, it is fantastic,” Proenza said of awarding a degree after two years of study. 

Berkman said CSU plans to initiate several programs this fall to improve retention, aimed at eliminating what he calls the “crapshoot of registering for classes.” 

All freshmen will have block programming, classes scheduled in blocks of time on specific days, such as Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he said. 

In addition, all students will be able to register for a full academic year of classes in the fall, making CSU the first school in the state to offer such an option, Berkman said. 

“It will guarantee them the courses and allow them to choose more intelligently,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to help the kids understand what they have to do to graduate.” 

Cuyahoga Community College President Jerry Sue Thornton said Petro plans to meet with community-college leaders today. She expects a focus on retention and graduation. 

Tri-C offers scheduling so students can arrange classes for mornings, afternoons or evenings but has not offered the courses in blocks tied to specific degree programs, which Petro is proposing, she said. 

“What he wants to do is take clusters or schedules and advertise it as a block,” she said. “You can sit down with the student and map it out. It is a great idea, and we have the structure to do it.” 

Thornton said graduation rates at community colleges are traditionally low because most students attend part time and need more than two years to complete a degree. 

“This coming year we are working with every student on a life plan,” she said. “We are asking them, ‘Where do you want to end up?’ and determining what is the pathway to get there.” 

Read this and other articles at the Cleveland Plain Dealer

 



 
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