SSU graduation rates attract national attention

October 1, 2012


PDT Staff Writer

According to a report by CBS MoneyWatch on Monday, Shawnee State University (SSU) was named as one of 50 state universities throughout the country with the best and worst graduation rates, over a six year period. Unfortunately for SSU, it was not on the side of the list garnering praise.

According to the report, SSU made the worst list with a six year graduation rate of 20.5 percent.

“We have been studying the factors that impact graduation rates for some time,” said Dr. Rita Rice Morris, SSU President in a released statement, “And we have been developing strategies to help our students succeed and reach their goals, including graduation. As an open admission institution, it’s a challenge. Shawnee State University was created to provide open access to higher education for all in our region — and we are committed to that mission.”

According to SSU, about 60 percent of its students are eligible for federal tuition assistance and nearly four out of every five students identify themselves as first-generation college students.

In January, the SSU Board of Trustees endorsed a plan by the Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Jim Petro to increase the school’s course completion rates and the number of degrees awarded.

“The success of our students has always been a priority of this university. The history has always been we would meet students where they are and we would get them as far as we would get them. Sometimes that took 10 or 11 years, we did not initially worry too much about the fact it took some students 10 or 12 years for them to graduate,” said Dr. Rita Rice Morris, President of SSU. “A lot has changed over the last eight to 10 years. Now there is a great financial pressure to move people through a lot faster. We have identified improving our retention and graduation rates as a priority and it’s now being linked to some of our funding.”

SSU and Central State University are the only universities in Ohio that receive a special supplement in the state’s budget. SSU’s supplement has been as high as $4 million; it is currently at $2.4 million.

With the passage of House Bill 153, Petro was required to submit a plan to state legislators. The plan was to ensure the “Shawnee State Supplement will be used to promote the goals of improving course completion, increasing the number of degree conferred and furthering the university’s mission of service to the Appalachian region,” Petro wrote in a letter to the school.

Shawnee’s goals, beginning with new students in the fall of 2013, are to improve the rate of successfully completed courses by one to three percent for each class for the next 10 years, increase associate and/or baccalaureate degrees by one to three percent for each class entering in the successive 10-year period and to further its service to the Appalachian region by strengthening relationships with key regional employees and school districts.

Dr. Watson Scott Swail, a retention consultant has been commissioned by the Chancellor to work with SSU in their retention efforts.

“As a result of (the chancellor’s plan) we have shifted a lot of resources into retention, which matches who we are as an institution,” Morris said. “One of the things that came out of those conversations was that since we’ve put together our Office of Institutional Effectiveness, we now better understand the dynamics of the student that comes to us under prepared.”

The SSU Board of Trustees recently decided not to enact admission standards. In 2010, SSU formed a task force to look at the issue of admission standards.

The task force, chaired by Dr. Tim Hamilton, recommended to the board that freshmen applicants meet two of three criteria, before admission is granted to SSU.

Criteria included, achieving a minimum high school grade point average, achieving a minimum ACT composite test score and achieving a high school class rank in the upper 2/3 of their class.

Morris did not rule out the possibility of reexamining the issue of possible admission standards in the future.

“What’s good about the work that was done by the task force, is that they gave us a good framework for future discussions,” Morris said.

She said as the basis for funding changes, institutions like SSU has to look at these questions.

“The decision by the board to continue with open admission, means that we are going to continue to put resources into helping people that need development. It also means that we recognize the fact that we are going to have to work harder for our funding,” Morris said. “I think it was the right question to ask, I guarantee you we will look at it again.”

Joining SSU on the list is Vincennes University with a zero percent graduation rate. University of Houston-Downtown 12.4 percent graduation rate. Chicago State University 13.9 percent University of New Orleans 20 percent graduation rate, Texas Southern University of 13.3 percent and many others.

Among the state universities with the highest graduation rates are University of Virginia 92.7 percent, University of California, Berkeley 91.1 percent, University of Florida 84.5 percent, United State Military Academy 85.7 percent Texas A&M university, 79.9 percent and Virginia Tech University 79.9 percent among others.

The complete CBS MoneyWatch report can be read at http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57517143/50-state-universities-with-best-worst-grad-rates/

Wayne Allen may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 208, or wallen@heartlandpublications.com.