KU continues to lead state universities in four-year graduation rate

Big Jay looked the part during graduation on Sunday, May 15, 2016 in Memorial Stadium.

While the number of students graduating from Kansas universities continues to fall short of Board of Regents goals, a report released earlier this month by the Regents found one school — the University of Kansas — outpacing all others.

KU had a 41.1 percent four-year graduation rate back in the reporting year 2016, meaning roughly 41 percent of freshmen who entered the university in the fall of 2010 graduated within four years. That’s according to an annual update of the Board of Regents’ “Foresight 2020” report, which drew its data from the National Center for Education Statistics in comparing the six schools in the state university system.

Second to KU was Kansas State University, which reported a four-year graduation rate of 31.1 percent, mirroring the overall graduation rate for Kansas’ state universities. Pittsburg State University came next at 25.6 percent, followed by Emporia State University at 22.7 percent, Wichita State University at 21.5 percent and Fort Hays State University at 18.1 percent.

Washburn University, a municipal university separate from the state system, trailed all six of its Regents counterparts at 14.9 percent.

KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson described the Regents report as “rewarding,” a reflection of concerted efforts by university leaders in recent years to shift recruitment from a regional model to a national and even global model.

“When looking at why KU has succeeded in improving graduation rates, it’s important to note that the university has transformed the enrollment strategy to seek out the students who are most prepared to succeed at the university level,” Barcomb-Peterson said in an email. “The result is a very different student body than we had just a few years ago.”

Just one example of this trend: KU’s current freshman class entered the university last fall with the highest average high school GPA (3.61) and the second-highest average ACT score (25.5) of any class in KU history.

Barcomb-Peterson attributes this partly to new admission standards implemented in the fall of 2016 that require either a 3.0 minimum high school GPA combined with an ACT score of 24 (1090 on the SAT), or a 3.25 minimum high school GPA combined with a 21 on the ACT (980 SAT).

There have also been efforts to “support the student experience in its entirety,” Barcomb-Peterson said, including redesigning courses, using predictive analytics and bolstering academic advising.

KU’s most recent statistics, released in February 2017, show graduation rates have continued to climb since 2010’s freshman class. Nearly 47 percent of the freshmen who entered KU in fall 2012 graduated within four years, according to KU’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning.

“It’s a good metric,” Barcomb-Peterson said of the four-year graduation rate. “But we’re also really mindful of that six-year graduation rate.”

KU narrowly beat out K-State in this area; according to the Board of Regents’ report, 63.4 percent of KU’s 2010 freshman class graduated within six years, while 62.9 percent of their peers at K-State did the same.

Looking ahead, Barcomb-Peterson said KU would continue to invest in its professional programs that require more than four years. Examples include intensive five-year master’s programs in architecture and a six-year doctoral program in pharmacy.

KU leaders are also mindful of “how we stack up” with peers outside Kansas and the Regents system, she added, including those in the American Association of Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.