News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 18, 2014

Detailing graduation statistics

New report is Indiana’s most comprehensive look at numbers

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Jordan Mauk, an Indiana State University junior, switched his major from nursing to dietetics, and he anticipates it will take him longer than four years to graduate.

“I think I’ll probably be more happy doing that [dietetics],” he said.

Kayla Altman, a senior communication major, started at ISU her freshman year hoping to major in nursing.

She then sat out a few years “because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.” She worked and saved up enough money to return.

Now approaching age 25, she hopes to graduate from ISU in December, and her goal is to move to California and do public relations work for a music studio. “Music is my big passion,” she said.

In Indiana, on-time college completion (four years for a bachelor’s degree and two years for an associate’s degree) is the exception, with the majority of students taking longer to graduate, according to a new report from the state Commission for Higher Education.

Fewer than one out of every 10 Hoosier students finishes a two-year degree within two years, and just three out of every 10 students finishes a four-year degree within four years, according to the 2014 state report on college graduation rates, “Indiana College Completion.”

An additional year of college can cost a Hoosier student nearly $50,000 in extra tuition, lost wages and related costs, the state says. “Taking longer to complete not only means students pay more, but it also decreases the chances that they graduate at all,” according to the report.

At ISU, 20.5 percent of students who enrolled full-time in fall of 2005 graduated at ISU within four years; 41.8 percent graduated in six years;and 44.5 percent in eight years.

When students are factored in who transferred from ISU and completed at another Indiana college or pursued another type of degree, the student completion rates increase to 25.1 percent in four years; 53.8 percent in six years; and 59.1 percent in eight years.

Completion rates factor into state higher education performance-based funding, which is recommended by the commission. A higher on-time completion rate means more state dollars.  

Josh Powers, ISU associate vice president for student success, views the focus on college completion as important. A college degree can be life-changing, enabling graduates to earn more money and have a better quality of life.

But there are factors that can prevent on time graduation. Students may have to work and can attend only part-time. Others may change their majors. Some students may want outside experiences, such as internships, that can lengthen the time it takes to get a four-year degree.

Powers agrees that the longer it takes to do anything, college included, the more likely things can get in the way.

While ISU could improve its completion rates by changing the students it admits, the university “has chosen not to go down that path,” Powers said. “We are about inclusion … not defining excellence by who is excluded.”

ISU wants to be an institution that provides more students with opportunities to transform their lives, he said.

That said, ISU is working hard to improve graduation rates, he said. It now offers the Sycamore Graduation Guarantee, in which the university will pay tuition for students who meet strict criteria but don’t get their degree on time, through no fault of their own.  

It has a degree-mapping tool (MySAM) that shows students what courses they need to take each semester to graduate on time. Advisers can use it with students.

It also hopes to ramp up summer course taking. For 2013-14, students who are first-time recipients of state aid (Frank O’Bannon grant or 21st Century Scholars award) must complete 30 credit hours in a calendar year. Otherwise, students could lose part of the O’Bannon award or they risk loss of eligibility for the 21st Century Scholars award.

In addition, ISU has started a Faculty Center for Teaching Excellence to improve teaching and include the latest innovations, he said. Faculty learn from each other how to differentiate instruction to reach students at various levels in the same classroom.

A related focus is on improving retention.

Over the past two years, ISU has had a 5-percent increase in freshmen-to-sophomore fall retention; this past fall, freshmen-to-sophomore retention was 63.5 percent.

Efforts to improve freshmen retention include the new University College, which includes a “consistent, intensive, intrusive approach” to advising. ISU uses an early warning system called MAP-Works to identify at-risk first-year students.

ISU also has partnered with InsideTrack, a national student success organization, which provides one-on-one coaching to 1,000 freshmen.

The state’s overall goal is to increase the percentage of adults with a college degree or workforce credential to 60 percent of the state’s population by 2025.

According to the CHE report, here is how four-year residential campuses compare in Indiana.

The numbers represent total completion rates after eight years and include students who graduate on campus and those who transfer and graduate at another Indiana college:

IU Bloomington — 83.1 percent.

Purdue West Lafayette — 81.5 percent

Ball State — 71.7 percent.

ISU — 59.1 percent.

University of Southern Indiana — 55.6 percent.

For the complete commission report, go to

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or