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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
IPFW freshman Mackenzie Herbert, left, walks across the Willis Family Bridge on campus Tuesday.

On-time degree not always reality

Jobs, families, transfers affect path to graduation

The Journal Gazette

Hoosier college students are taking longer than expected to graduate, according to a study released Tuesday that tracks where students complete college and how long it takes them to complete a degree.

About 3 in 10 students who enroll at an Indiana four-year campus graduate on time, and about half finish within six years, according to a study by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Only 1 in 10 students at two-year campuses finishes a two-year degree on time, and about 12 percent graduate within three years, the study found.

“Clearly, an on-time degree will always be the best and most affordable path to college graduation,” said Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers.

“At the same time, we recognize that Indiana’s completion picture includes not only full-time students who start and finish at the same campus but also students who attend college part time, students who transfer between colleges, students who take longer and students who earn a different credential than the one they set out to pursue.”

The study looks back six years for community college campuses, to full-time students entering in 2007, and eight years for other schools, to full-time students entering in 2005. Part-time students are not included in the study.

Officials from Ivy Tech Community College and IPFW said they are pleased that the commission recognizes the changing structure of today’s college students, but comparing data across all Hoosier colleges and universities continues to be a challenge.

Larger four-year schools such as Indiana, Purdue and Ball State universities come out on top in terms of the number of students graduating on time. But smaller colleges and universities – including those that offer two-year degree programs in which students might work full-time jobs while attending classes – show lower numbers.

Statewide, 5.1 percent of students who attended two-year colleges finished on time at the same campus, while 15.2 percent of students completed their degrees late but at the same campus.

An additional 7.9 percent of students started and completed a degree at the same two-year campus, but transferred elsewhere in between or completed a different type of degree, for a total student completion rate of 28.2 percent.

The total student completion rate includes all students who graduated, regardless of where they completed their degrees or what degrees they earned.

Completion rates factor into performance-based funding from the state, which is recommended by the commission, officials said. A higher on-time completion rate means more state dollars will be funneled into the college or university.

Carl Drummond, IPFW’s vice chancellor for academic affairs, said the notion that students will start and finish in four years is not applicable to campuses such as IPFW, where students might work full time or care for a family while attending classes part time.

“But what comes out of this report is the commission saying we realize that ideal is not the reality of students in Indiana,” Drummond said.

At IPFW, 6.5 percent of students who started and finished degrees at the same campus completed on time, while 25.5 percent of students completed late, according to the report.

An additional 18 percent of students started and finished their degrees at IPFW but transferred elsewhere in between or completed a different type of degree. The total student completion rate for IPFW is 50.1, according to the study.

When compared with all campuses, IPFW’s percentages look small, but compared with other regional campuses, the percentages are on track, Drummond said.

“We know here in Fort Wayne that our students spend more hours a week working and spend more hours a week caring for a family,” he said. “They spend more time in those two tasks than students at (similar) institutions, and the number of them who cross the finish line … is good in comparison.”

At Ivy Tech, 3.8 percent of students who started and finished degrees at the same campus completed on time, while 15.7 percent of students completed late, the report showed.

Ivy Tech data include all Indiana Ivy Tech locations, not just Ivy Tech Community College Northeast.

The study found that 8.2 percent of students started and finished their degrees at Ivy Tech but transferred elsewhere in between or completed a different type of degree, for a total student completion rate of 27.7 percent.

Ivy Tech Community College President Thomas Snyder said the data are misleading for two-year community colleges such as Ivy Tech, where the majority of students attend part time.

About 70 percent of Ivy Tech students are enrolled part time, and those students aren’t counted in the college completion data, Snyder said.

When the data are adjusted to count all Ivy Tech students, the total student completion rate is 48.5 – significantly closer to the success that schools with only full-time students report, he said.

That number is a 6.2 percent increase over last year, according to data provided by Ivy Tech that include full- and part-time students.

“Our part-time people are graduating at fairly significant numbers, and it’s misleading not to include them in these figures,” Snyder said.

At IPFW, 57.4 percent of students attend classes full time – 12 or more credit hours a semester – while 42.6 percent are part-time students, officials said.

Only 4 percent of the more than 100,000 Ivy Tech students enrolled take 15 or more credit hours a semester – the number of credits it would take to graduate in two years, Snyder said.

“For us, looking at that two-year rate is irrelevant,” Snyder said. “The average it takes our students to complete a (bachelor’s) degree is five years and one semester.”

Snyder said that while he would like to see an increase in the percentage of students who complete degrees on time and at the same campus, it’s difficult to do.

“While we appreciate the desire to move more students through higher education faster, the reality is that the community college student is often balancing life, work and sometimes a family,” he said.

Snyder said the college’s “student body is the most complex in higher education.”

Full-time students at two-year colleges are 1 1/2 times more likely to complete a degree within six years than part-time students, the study said.

At four-year colleges, 29.5 percent of students finished on time at the same campus, while 26.2 percent of students completed their degrees late, but at the same campus, the study found.

It found that 12.9 percent of students transferred to a four-year college and completed a degree or completed a different type of degree, for a total student completion rate of 68.6 percent.

Full-time college students at four-year colleges are six times more likely to complete a degree within eight years than part-time students, the study found.

“In the end, we have exactly the same goal – that is to graduate students with high-quality degrees – but we don’t follow the same path to get there,” Drummond said.

jcrothers@jg.net

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