MU enrollment rises; four-year, six-year graduation rates improve

Monday, October 31, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:05 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 31, 2011

COLUMBIA — Every August they charge through the columns, rumbling toward Jesse Hall. Four exciting years wait just around the corner.

For many of these MU students, though, four years really means five or six. In some cases, even more. Freshmen enter MU with a sense they will be done within four years. However, four years leave a lot of time for goals and interests to change, extending many students' undergraduate careers.

MU's graduation rates are near the top for Big 12 schools. MU is also one of the fastest growing universities in the Association of American Universities and the Big 12, according to previous Missourian reporting. But graduating in four years is not as easy as it sounds. With a continued rise in enrollment at MU, the ability to improve graduation rates will be increasingly difficult.

Erica Evans spent 7 1/2 years as an undergraduate student. Starting out at Truman State University, Evans bounced from major to major until she found something she enjoyed.

After transferring to MU in January 2006, it wasn't until December 2008 that she was able to graduate with a bachelor's degree in human environmental science. She is now in a doctorate program at MU.

"My issue was that I could never find something I was truly interested in, so I had to take classes to find out what I liked," Evans said. "I changed my major about six or seven times." 

Since 2001, MU has seen four-year graduation rates rise from 40.9 percent to 46.5 percent, according to data obtained from the university registrar's website. Six-year graduation rates have gone from 67.2 percent to 69.3 percent. Both are clear improvements.

"We worked really hard to recruit students that we have confidence in and can be very successful at Mizzou," said Jim Spain, vice provost of undergraduate studies at MU. "Over time, we've been able to recruit students that have very strong academic backgrounds from all over the state and all over the country."

Spain credits the rise in graduation rates and enrollment to the programs MU has developed in recent years. These programs include Summer Welcome, Freshman Interest Groups, Student Success Center courses and other orientation courses.

"Not only are we seeing more students graduate, but they're achieving graduation sooner than previous student cohorts," Spain said. "I think it goes back to the things our campus has done intentionally."

Spain said MU has continually strengthened opportunities and support networks for students over the past 10 years. It all starts with recruitment.

"We have continued to get better and better at recruitment, orientation and a strong freshman-year experience," Spain said. "Underneath all of that, there's a stronger network of student support."

Struggling to determine a major and transferring are factors that can lengthen a student's college career. Some students face financial troubles, medical issues and study abroad decisions as well.

Transfer students such as Evans don't factor into MU's graduation rate numbers. But Evans is an example of why students often spend more than four years in their undergraduate careers.

The difficulty in determining a major is something that plagues many undergraduates. For $15, the MU Career Center offers a StrengthsFinder assessment for students to help determine which careers would suit their skills.

Spain explained how switching majors can be beneficial to students in the long-term because they find a major to which they feel more connected.

"Our schools and colleges at Mizzou are working to help students find that fit earlier," Spain said. "The sooner we can help students navigate majors, the sooner they're going to be able to graduate."

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Ellis Smith October 31, 2011 | 2:41 p.m.

It would be interesting to compare four-year graduation rates from the year 1950 to the year 2010 at both MU and MS&T.

In 1950 those were the only two campuses of this university.

I would like to see a comparison for each campus for the two times periods, not a cross-comparison of campuses. But perhaps a cross-comparison would be of interest.

For 1950 we had, nationally, the last of the GI Bill WWII vets.

Even for those not veterans, I do not recall many students bouncing "from major to major." In fact such a person would at either MU or MS&T have been viewed as odd, frivolous, or both.

Except for some students who were on work-study programs (still present in certain curricula at both campuses), most folks graduated in four years.

Because we were geniuses? I certainly wasn't! Looks to me as if the "culture" and our "expectations" have changed, but not necessarily for the better.

Note: As someone has previously noted, during the earlier time period cited it was not common practice to finance college education with loans. If your family could secure a private bank loan, you could have a "student loan." I don't recall that having happened a lot.

In short, when students entered college in those days they could hear the graduation clock ticking - very loudly.

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