While our graduation rates have been steadily increasing over the past few years, UWG still has a significantly low percentage of students graduating each year.
Calculating graduation rates is a tedious and difficult task. UWG’s Department of Institutional Research and Planning creates reports every year for the University System of Georgia’s database. Graduation rates are calculated by looking at first-time, full-time students and seeing how many of them graduate within six years. This means that only incoming freshmen who have never attended a postsecondary school and are taking at least 12 credit hours are included in this group. However, Dr. Ebenezer Kolajo, the director of Institutional Research and Planning, said that this system has received criticism because it does not consider transfer students, either transferring from UWG or even to UWG from another school.
According to IRP, only about 38 percent of first-time, full-time students beginning school in 2005 graduated within six years (by 2011). Of that 38 percent, only about 13 percent graduated in four years. About 17 percent graduated in five years and it took six years for about eight percent to graduate. This means that the other 62 percent are either no longer enrolled, transferred to another school, or took longer than six years to graduate.
Without saying whether these rates were “good” or “bad,” Kolajo asks that people determine for themselves what sort of rates UWG has. So let’s take a look. Using the same year (2005), the University of Georgia had a rate of about 82 percent graduating within six years, Georgia Tech had about 79 percent, Georgia College and State University had about 55 percent, Georgia Southern had about 47 percent, and even Valdosta State University had a higher rate than UWG with 43 percent.
Over the past eight years, UWG’s four year and six year graduation rates have been slowly increasing. Comparing the four year graduation rates of first-time, full-time students of 2000 to 2007 will show that there was an increase from about 11 percent to about 17 percent. The six year graduation rates are similar, raising just over two percent during this time period. It is more difficult to see a trend in the five year rates because they are constantly increasing and then decreasing.
With the data provided by IRP, we also see a trend of more people taking longer than the “normal” four years to graduate. Every year since 2000, significantly more students have graduated in five years than in four or six. Some UWG students believe that getting a degree here is now a five year process.
Katie Garner, a graduate student who received her bachelor’s degree in 2009, said “It is near impossible to graduate in four years. Unfortunately, getting into all the classes you need to graduate is hard, as there are fewer classes offered for an increasing number of students.” Garner, herself, had to wait two extra semesters to graduate because she couldn’t get into a class that she needed to graduate since only one was offered each semester.
So why are graduation rates so low at UWG? Unfortunately, Kolajo and IRP do not have a simple answer. “Students do not graduate for various reasons—those reasons may be academic or non-academic,” Kolajo said. He said that students drop out due to illness, financial distress or other personal reasons. Many students also use UWG as a means of increasing their GPA in order to transfer to another school. It is hard to pinpoint an exact reason why our graduation rates are so low, but with the steady increase over the past few years, there is hope for the future.