Jordan Kerns wants to earn a journalism degree in four years at Kansas University.
The incoming freshman from Shawnee also wants to take classes in psychology and astronomy at KU, but she wants to make sure they fit into a four-year schedule for college.
“I want to make all of it fit and not just take random classes,” Kerns said.
Kerns is one of many KU students being encouraged to focus on graduating in four years. The push for this time frame began in 2005, when a task force recommended emphasizing the time limit to help more students get through college quicker and help them save money. New Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said she will continue to emphasize graduating in four years at KU, something she’s worked hard on during her tenure as provost at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
“It’s important because we focus on the importance and value of college education, and when we admit students there is sort of an implicit commitment that we think they can succeed,” Gray-Little said. “And so I want to make sure that we do everything to help them succeed to the point of getting a degree.”
The four-year graduation rate also reflects back on the school. U.S. News and World Report ranked KU at No. 40 on the 2009 list of public universities. Twenty percent of this ranking is figured out by a school’s retention, or the number of freshmen who come back to school and who graduate eventually. Almost 80 percent of freshmen starting in 2007 returned to KU in 2008, according to a report from KU’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning. The same report shows that almost 60 percent of KU students who started in 2002 graduated in six years or less.
“It’s one of the key indicators that’s used to measure the success of a university’s undergraduate programs, is how well it’s able to bring students and to kind of indoctrinate them into the university experience, keep them there and help them graduate successfully,” Gray-Little said.
Marlesa Roney, vice provost for student success, said all rankings are different and change every year. She said that in the past 20 years, KU started to notice that students were graduating at the same rate, but many were taking longer than four years to do it. Former provost David Shulenburger then organized a task force in 2005 to examine why many students weren’t graduating in four years. The task force reported that KU ranked fifth among Big 12 universities for the percentage of students graduating in four years, based on data from 1997. It also found that students who started college taking 12 hours of courses per semester often did not take more after that, resulting in a longer stay at college.
“It’s more about focusing on academics and careful planning,” Roney said.
New student orientation has changed since the report came out. Jokes about graduating in more than four years have been removed, and taking 15 hours is encouraged.
“We’re welcoming the class of 2013, and we’re really emphasizing that this is your class,” Roney said.
At UNC, Gray-Little said the school hired more academic advisers and a retention coordinator focused on keeping students at the school. The university also started an office for student success to help with the school’s graduation rate. At KU, she hopes to continue this trend by helping students from when they’re admitted to the time they’re ready to graduate using guidance that includes a quality relationship with faculty but also various kinds of programs KU can offer to focus on retention and graduation.
Tammara Durham, director of the University Advising Center, said the center advises students who have not yet chosen a major. It helps them plan their college futures, provides workshops on choosing majors and allows students to shadow professionals in their prospective majors.
In the meantime, incoming freshman Kerns is just excited about attending KU. She’s focused on getting the basic classes out of the way, and is considering seeking help from an adviser. She knows four years is what she wants to do, though.
“That’s the set plan for now,” she said.