Low completion rates are a problem at some of Connecticut’s four-year public state institutions. A recent report outlining the number of bachelor’s degree earners reveals a significant gap in the graduation rates between the four-year public state institutions that make up the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities and the University of Connecticut.
Although in-state, undergraduate tuition costs at each of the five public institutions are the same, their graduation rates are vastly different. The CSCU graduation rates are lagging behind those at UConn, and strategies need to be instituted in the CSCU system to correct this discrepancy.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the lowest four-year graduation rates were found at Southern and Western Connecticut State Universities — where only 20 percent of the undergraduates earned a degree. The count at Central Connecticut State University was not much better at only 24 percent. The highest four-year completion rates among the CSCU undergraduates was found at Eastern Connecticut State University with 41 percent of students earning a bachelor’s degree. In contrast, UConn’s four-year graduation rate was 70 percent.
This huge gap is very concerning and the CSCU institutions must address it.
An examination of the six-year graduation rates, continued to reveal a problem. When compared to UConn’s four-year graduation rate of 70 percent and the overall state average of 62.5 percent, the number of bachelor’s degree earners from the four-year CSCU institutions still fell short. At Southern, Western, and Central Connecticut State Universities, the six-year graduation rates rose to 48 percent, 44 percent, and 52 percent respectively. Eastern Connecticut State University continued to score the highest in the ConnSCU system with 54 percent of the students earning a bachelor’s degree in six years.
In order to increase graduation rates, the CSCU governing board, Connecticut policymakers, and higher education associations such as AAUP must acknowledge low completion rates as a problem. They need to lobby for legislation to establish policies targeting the improvement of graduation rates. As part of their strategic planning, the CSCU institutions should strongly consider following the pattern set by the national University Innovation Alliance (UIA) collaborative in 2014.
The University Innovation Alliance is a group of 11 public research universities committed to finding and sharing existing university programs that help increase graduation rates. Among the universities involved in the UIA are Georgia State University, Arizona State University, the University of Texas at Austin, Oregon State University, and Iowa State University. In 2017, the UIA announced a 25 percent increase in their graduation rates over three years.
The rate increase spearheaded by the UIA collaborative is attributed to three initiatives. First, using existing data, they targeted students at-risk of dropping out of college. This allowed them to reach out to those students and provide them with specific academic and social supports at critical junctures in their academic journeys. Second, they developed a leadership development program that places top-tier early-career professionals with Alliance member institutions, to help spearhead new solutions and innovations on campus. Third, UIA provided financial supports, through grants, for at-risk students.
The UIA model reinforces the need for special academic, social, and financial supports to help guide students toward graduation. Connecticut should implement a similar collaborative approach to increase the number of bachelor’s degree graduates.
Connecticut’s State Colleges and Universities have a responsibility to help students graduate. Their commitment must be to serve their communities by supporting students through their educational journeys. As non-profit organizations, the CSCU institutions were established in order to fulfill the mission of creating an educated population within the State of Connecticut. By working together to improve graduation rates, Connecticut’s public universities will provide the state with more educated individuals equipped to enter the workforce and ultimately, enable them to become more productive citizens.
Marisa Rubera is a doctoral degree student at the University of Hartford.