For the first time, nearly 69 percent of undergraduate students completed their degrees in four years, marking a nearly four-point increase from students entering in 2013.
“We’re focused as an institution in helping our students graduate in four years,” said Tonia Jones Peterson, director of retention and student success. “There are a lot of different ways we do that, a lot of hands-on pieces, and we’re really excited to see the results with our FTFY14 cohort.”
While most higher education reporting goes by graduation rates for students within six years (77 percent of St. Thomas students graduate within six years), graduating within four years often means a reduction in room, board, transportation and other college-related expenses that contribute to student debt. Federal, state and institutional aid can also be limited after four years, meaning student debt spikes accompany full tuition costs in years five and beyond. St. Thomas’ new tuition model for undergraduates starting with the class of 2023 is also aimed at encouraging students to complete their degree within four years.
“There are a lot of factors that contribute to graduation rates, but we’re focusing on first-to-second-year retention and graduation rates,” Provost Richard Plumb said.
St. Thomas’ retention rate for full time, first time Bachelor’s cohort retention rate from Fall 2017 to Fall 2018 was 85.8 percent, compared to 72 percent nationally and 76 percent across Minnesota.
Peterson said there is a strong correlation between retention rates and timely graduation rates (a student who leaves the university without graduating automatically reduces the four-year graduation rate). Therefore, assisting students in the early parts of their undergraduate careers means better outcomes at the end. While nothing about the process is a perfect science, she said, partnering with department chairs, Academic Counseling & Support, and the Registrar’s Office has helped increase the number of students getting out the door in four years.
Four-year graduation rates by year entering St. Thomas
- 2010: 62.4
- 2011: 65.3
- 2012: 64.3
- 2013: 65.3
- 2014: 68.8
“There’s a lot students can do to support that,” Peterson said. “Looking at degree evaluation every semester to make sure the courses they’re taking are meeting requirements; four-year planning is a great opportunity for students to work with Academic Counseling staff to map out their time. Is it a good idea to double major? What does my time look like while I’m here? We want to partner with students in that experience to help them take ownership.”
St. Thomas’ Center for Student Achievement is a central hub supporting timely graduation, with resources for academic planning, connecting experiences outside the classroom into academic settings, and access to partnerships across the university.