Most Mo. College Students Won\'t Graduate on Time, Data Reveals

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COLUMBIA - More than half of the University of Missouri's 6,000 full-time freshmen won't graduate in four years -- nor will most students at the other three UM campuses or other colleges in the state, recent data reveal.

Six-year graduation rates trump what is considered a public perception of the four-year "norm." According to MU's most recent enrollment statistics, only about 47% of the university's retained students who started college for the first time in 2007 graduated in four years -- MU's highest four-year graduation rate on record.  But, measured by first-time, full-time students who started college in 2003, about 69% graduated in six years -- MU's second-highest on record.

MU Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Studies Jim Spain explained, "One important factor is that students are not taking enough credit hours to complete the degrees that require at least 120 credit hours.  In some cases, this is related to financial constraints, and students can take only 13 to 14 credits per semester."

And, as Spain affirmed, many students also are switching majors and utilizing internship opportunities, which thereby can extend their college careers.  

MU senior Allison Alder said, "I just assumed that I could do it in four years. That's kind of what most colleges lead you to think and to believe. I switched my major once...and that already put me behind a semester."  Alder plans to graduate with a nursing degree in December after four and a half years of undergrad.

These factors, Spain noted, could explain the graduation rate trends in most Missouri schools.  At the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), only about 18 percent of students graduate in four years, but approximately 45 percent of students graduate in six.  At the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), only about 21 percent graduate in four years, but roughly 53 percent graduate in six. And, at Missouri University of Science and Technology ( Missouri S&T), only about 25 percent of students graduate in four years and roughly 66 percent graduate in six.

But, as UMSL Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs Dr. Judith Walker de Felix noted, only first-time, full-time students are factored in to this data, thereby dropping graduation rates for schools whose transfer students make up the majority of the populous.  "Anybody who maybe started at the community colleges because they didn't have the financial resources...they may graduate in four years, but they wouldn't be reported," Walker said.

Local colleges in mid-Missouri have similar trends.  At William Woods University in Fulton, 44 percent of students graduate in four years, and 51 percent graduate in six.  At Columbia College, 28 percent of students graduate in four years, and 40 percent students graduate in six.  At Lincoln University in Jefferson City, just 10 percent of students graduate in four years, but 23 percent graduate in six. 

A Lincoln University registrar explained its low four-year rate is attributed to the fact that most of the school's students maintain regular jobs during the school year.

Despite the numbers, administrators at several Missouri colleges told KOMU 8 News they are implementing means of increasing the number of academic advisors and strategizing how to make on-line classes more available.  Officials also expressed a need to facilitate an easier transferring of credits for students who change majors.

But, schools are forewarning incoming freshmen.  "Develop that relationship with an academic advisor and work with them closely each and every semester in planning out your coursework and planning out the other enriching opportunities that Mizzou provides and offers," Spain said.

Alder added, "Let them know that it is OK to change your mind. If it does take a little extra time, that's OK, too, just do your best to stay on task and to really put your studies first, especially as hard as that is at a big university like this."

Spain affirmed MU is among the top public universities academically not only in the Midwest, but also in the Big 12 conference.  He said the school's move to the SEC, a conference with statistically lower academic and graduation rates, will not weaken its academic strength.  Instead, the change will provide a chance for MU to stand out.