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Saturday, December 20, 2014

UNM graduation rates up

Officials credit improved student resources for rise

news@dailylobo.com
@ArdeetheJourno

UNM awarded more diplomas this year than in each of the past 24 years.

According to a document from the office of the provost, the University’s six-year graduation rate, which is at 47.3 percent, is its highest since it first released numbers in 1989. This year’s rate is 1.5 percentage points higher than last year’s 45.8 percent.

UNM’s four-year graduation rate also increased by 2.4 percentage points, from 12.6 percent in 2012 to 15 percent this year.

UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah said UNM has been focusing on improving graduation rates by increasing resources for students.

“President (Robert) Frank, through his UNM 2020 initiative, has established aggressive goals for the six-year graduation rates, but just as importantly, towards increasing the four-year graduation rate,” Abdallah said. “As we raised funds from tuition, we have allocated considerable resources towards helping students to graduate.”

According to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems’ website, the national average for universities’ graduation six-year graduation rates in 2009 is 55.5 percent. New Mexico’s average six-year graduation rate is 39.4 percent, according to the site.

Abdallah said one of these new resources, UNM’s Graduation Express program, keenly monitors students who are close to graduation through academic advising. He said the program also provided “additional scholarship aid to a few students … who only needed a course or two in order to complete their degree requirements” last year.

UNM also founded the Office of Student Academic Success two years ago to supplement existing advisement initiatives on campus, Abdallah said. He said the office includes other University departments, such as Enrollment Management and Information Technology, in its “One-Stop” student resources.

Abdallah said the University aims to provide resources to students as soon as possible.

“Our goal is to provide this level of support to students more uniformly throughout their time here, beginning the moment they set foot on campus,” he said. “Indeed, we have plans to begin working with our incoming freshman and planning for their success even before they arrive at UNM.”

Vanessa Harris, director of University Advisement, said her office will provide more resources to students this semester. She said Advisement is set to launch LoboAchieve, an online program through which academic advisers and faculty members will be able to monitor students’ grades more closely.

Advisement has also created degrees.unm.edu, a website where students can find eight-semester academic plans for every academic major at UNM, she said. She said the website provides information about course and GPA requirements for each major in the University.

“These new tools that we have been bringing on board have really started to make a difference and an impact,” Harris said. “I can honestly say that working with advisement and with other departments on campus is really helping to see that increase that we would want to see.”

Harris said Advisement also encourages students to get involved more on campus.

“Research shows that students who get involved are more successful and we retain them longer,” she said. “My hope is that we continue to see the increase because we don’t really want to go back.”

Improvements in the graduation rates will benefit the University community in general, Harris said.

“It shows us that we are progressing our students along,” she said. “We are trying to minimize the debt that our students have, because the sooner that we can get them to graduate, the better for them. Also, it reflects highly on the University.”

Abdallah said the graduation rates reflect the rate of academic completion for full-time freshmen who have started their higher education at the University. He said part-time, transfer and returning students are not included in the measurement of graduation rates.

Because of this, the six- and four-year graduation rates are “not necessarily the best graduation measure,” Abdallah said. But he said the rates are the standard way of measuring academic success in universities nationwide.

Still, Abdallah said UNM is committed to promoting student success.

“Ultimately, what matters most is the amount of learning and growth that the students gained at UNM rather than how many we pushed out the door,” he said. “We could, for example, increase our graduation rates by filtering out many of our incoming students, as is done at the most selective institution. But that is not what UNM does or will do. Our mission and challenge are to provide access and educational value while maintaining affordable costs.”

Abdallah said he is optimistic about UNM’s graduation rates.

“In the long term, we expect our four-year and six-year graduation rates to keep increasing due to our coordinated efforts,” he said. “While we are pleased with the increasing trend in graduation, we will not be satisfied until UNM’s graduation rates are on par with the best public universities.”