As part of a national push to produce more college graduates, the University of Central Missouri is launching an initiative designed to help more of its students earn degrees in four years.
The school, starting this fall, will require most incoming freshman to live in residence halls for two years, encourage students to pick majors earlier and offer better academic advising. It also will offer a “15 to Finish” scholarship for seniors who've taken full class loads during their first three years.
The 11,800-student university in Warrensburg, about 50 miles east of Kansas City, said about 500 students out of a typical 1,800-student freshman class don't graduate in five years. University spokesman Robin Krause said the initial goal of the new effort, called the Learning to a Greater Degree Contract, is to make sure an additional 100 of those students graduate.
The university is among nearly 500 public colleges that pledged in October to produce a combined 3.8 million additional graduates by 2025, an ambitious target that would help bring the U.S. closer to its goal of regaining its lost global lead in college attainment. The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities are driving the effort.
The institutions are not committing to enrolling more students. The focus will be on improving completion rates – long considered the weak link of American higher education.
Krause said the University of Central Missouri drew from research and successful efforts at other colleges in designing its program.
Historically, students residing in the residence halls have higher grade point averages and graduate sooner than students living off campus, Krause said. But currently, only around 30 percent of the school's students live in residence halls for two years.
The school is still working out details, but the two-year residence hall requirement will most likely affect traditional, full-time students. Krause said the school has enough room for more residence hall dwellers and noted that a 320-bed building will open in the fall of 2015.
“We hope it will change the characteristics of the campus with more students being here all the time,” Krause said.
He said the idea behind the “15 to Finish” scholarship is that if students will take an average of 15 credit hours per semester, they will graduate in four years and save themselves money. The exact amount of the scholarships won't be determined until later this spring, Krause said.
Through improved academic advising, the school plans to prescribe a recommended series of courses for students' first year based on the majors they pick.
“It's not just any old 15,” Krause said. “It's the right 15 to keep you on track to graduate.”
The improved advising effort will include the addition of five academic advisers as well as peer advisers in the residence hall. Krause said administrators also will encourage faculty to email or talk to students who are racking up lots of absences. Plus, the school will push students to get involved in extracurricular organizations and include that information on transcripts.
“It all boils down to students who are engaged in their education and organizations on campus are more likely to stick with it and graduate,” Krause said.