Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Whose fault is this anyway?

At first glance, this MPR story about the U's push to improve its four-year graduation rate may seem pretty benign. It's hard to argue, after all, that the typical time frame for an undergraduate degree should require more than four years of full-time study. And it's certainly laudable that the administration wants to see the U's four-year graduation rate rise.

But what's all this about students finally getting the message that getting through in four years is a good thing?

Students aren't the problem here. Not even remotely. Sure, there may be a tiny handful of students who willfully lollygag their way through four or five major changes who then wind up taking seven or eight years to graduate as a result. Maybe. But if those students are out there, they're certainly not characteristic of the students who routinely come through my classroom as fifth- and sixth-year seniors. Those students have been slowed down on the road to a diploma because they're simply not able to take the classes they need to fulfill their requirements in a timely fashion. Those classes simply don't get offered often enough. Or they get offered every semester, but never with enough seats for everyone who needs them. And none of that is because of students. It's because the U's administration doesn't really give a damn about education.

Do the math. Student enrollments are going up. Tuition rates are going up. More students paying more money to attend the U should make it possible for the U to hire more faculty, more P&A instructors, and/or more graduate student instructors to help meet the needs of all those additional students.

And yet, the administration has cut back on faculty lines, let go more P&A instructors than it's hired, and downsized graduate programs. All in the name of "financial stringency." So, at best, students who somehow still manage to complete their degrees in four years will get a weaker education for all that extra money, since they'll be taking ever larger classes from ever more overworked instructors. And, at worst, it'll be even harder than before for most students to complete their studies in anything resembling a normal time frame.

So it's even more infuriating that Sullivan and Bruininks are working so hard to "remind" students of the need to finish up their degrees in four years. It's not our students who need this reminder, after all. It's the administration who needs to be reminded that students can't complete their degrees without taking courses. And that they can't take those courses if they're not offered. And that those courses can't be offered if the administration is shrinking the U's instructional staff instead of expanding it.


  1. This is what is called blame the victim. After denying this problem to death - the graduation rate not too long ago was 24% - all of a sudden it is the student's fault that the graduation rate is low, compared to other institutions?

    It's nice to see Morrill Hall finally get religion, but...

    And cutbacks to the core will not help graduation rate.

    By the way, we do have $80 mil to spend on gutting Northrop and starting over. This is an absurd use of money right now, but the Morill Hall Gang apparently marches to a different drummer.

  2. Let's not forget the tuition dimension of this. Tuition keeps going up, so students work lots of hours while taking a full load. Most of my students work at least 30 hours a week and still take a full load. Instead of taking fewer credits, which would be more humane (and better for learning and their overall welfare), they max out on credits because the administration has made anything over 13 credits free. So students take more credits than they can handle--and who can blame them given the financial incentives? Why set up such an insane system? Because 4-year graduation rates are important in college rankings. If we're not going to lower tuition, then we've gotta' let go of the 4-year graduation metric. IMHO, finishing in 6 years is pretty impressive when students work so many hours.