Governor Gary Herbert and Weber State University are working to develop strategies to raise the graduation rate by 2020.
Currently, around 40 percent of WSU students graduate after six years of attending classes, while around 10 percent graduate within four years. Herbert’s plan, announced on Oct. 15, is designed to help reach a goal of having 66 percent of the adult population in Utah have postsecondary degrees or certificates by the year 2020. The plan is called “On Pace to 66 Percent By 2020.”
The Office of Institutional Research at WSU is tasked with gathering information on graduation and retention rates, among other statistics, to be reported to the Department of Education. Steven Kerr, the program’s director, discussed some reasons it takes so many WSU students six years, as opposed to four, to reach graduation.
“A lot of it has to do with the Mormon missions that students go on,” Kerr said. “So we have 40-50 percent of our male students who go on LDS missions. So they go for two years and then they come back.”
Kerr also said economic and financial considerations come into play and determine how many classes students can take during a semester.
“There’s probably about 90 percent of our students that have a job, at least a part-time job, which is a lot different from some other institutions,” he said. “For instance, (at) Harvard or Michigan, I think it’s probably the other way around.”
Irma Hernandez is a Spanish major who will graduate from WSU after nine years of study. One of the reasons it has taken her so long to reach her goal is changes in her personal life that caused much financial strain. Her father, the main provider in her family, died, which caused Hernandez to take a break from school in order to work and help provide for her family. She also decided to start a family of her own.
“When that happened, I took a break,” Hernandez said. “It was really hard on our family, and I also started working to help out my family. And then, after he passed away, after I started working, I got married, and then I have had two kids.”
When she came back to WSU, Hernandez also had to work in order to pay back student loans before she could apply for new ones.
“When I went back to school after he passed away, I had to pay back all the money I’d gotten from financial aid to get more financial aid,” she said.
A source from the governor’s office discussed some of the methods the governor and others plan to use in order to reach the goal of 66 percent by the year 2020. Many of these strategies would actually focus on helping students excel in elementary, junior high and high schools before they graduate. One strategy is to encourage students in high schools to begin taking courses that offer college credit before they receive their diplomas.
Kerr also spoke in favor of encouraging high-school students to become involved in college early on.
“Things like concurrent enrollment . . . (are) being pushed in a lot of high schools, and by the time students come to Weber State, a lot of them have their freshman year already taken care of,” he said.
The state is working with individual institutions of higher education, including WSU, to come up with plans to raise the graduation rates for the coming years.