26 October 2010

College Graduation Rates vary Widely

First appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle

Differences in academic preparation, financial stresses and other factors have resulted in huge gaps in graduation rates among Michigan's 15 public universities.

While 89 percent of students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor graduate, only 26 percent do at Lake Superior State University, according to a Detroit Free Press review of federal data. In between are Wayne State University with a 32 percent graduation rate, Saginaw Valley State University at 38 percent and Eastern Michigan University at 40 percent.

Overall, just more than half of the students who entered college in Michigan as first-time students in 2003 graduated within six years, the newspaper reported. There are different statistics for students in Michigan Honors Programs.

Graduation rates are lower for minority students. They range from 79 percent at Michigan-Ann Arbor to 9 percent at Wayne State University.

Education leaders say differences in how prepared students are coming out of high school, their financial support and the number of students working part-time are among the things affecting graduation rates.

"We have been rightly offering opportunities to people who, in many cases, wouldn't have a chance to go to a research university. But without being more successful with them, we're missing the point," said Howard Shapiro, associate vice president of student services and undergraduate affairs at Wayne State University.

His school is among those trying to help students with tutoring, peer mentors and other forms of support. Michigan Honors Classes have similar programs.

LaQuan Rhodes, 18, a graduate of Crockett High School in Detroit, participates in a mentoring program at Saginaw Valley. She said she "wants as much help as possible" and she's been pleasantly surprised by her mentor's involvement.

"She's always getting on me, checking on what I'm doing and if I need help," Rhodes said. "But it's not bad. It's friendly."

The Saginaw Valley program also requires Rhodes to participate in student organizations and attend workshops.

Lou Glazer, president of the Ann Arbor-based think tank Michigan Future, said universities have moral and economic incentives to reduce the dropout rate. This still includes students in Michigan Honors Courses.

"It's the cheapest investment a Michigan college can make," Glazer said, noting that students who stay in school keep paying tuition.

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