Eastern’s graduation rate above national average

Debby Hernandez, Administration Editor

Eastern is above the national average in graduation rates for four-year institutions offering bachelor’s degrees, and within the average rate for Illinois institutions.

Eastern’s four-year graduation rate is at 33 percent; the five-year rate is at 55 percent, and the six-year rate at 59 percent.

The 2014 national average is at 23.6 percent for a four-year graduation rate, 38.9 percent for a five-year rate, and 43.7 percent for a six-year rate, according to ACT’s National Collegiate Retention and Persistence to Degree Rates report.

The average graduation rate for four-year bachelor’s degree granting institutions in Illinois is 4.6 years, according to a new organization called Complete College America.

Mary Herrington-Perry, the assistant vice-president for academic affairs, said Eastern’s graduation rate for 2014 follows the norm in Illinois Institutions for non-transfer students.

There is a four-year myth rate of graduation, in which only 26 percent of students in four-year institutions not considered top schools in the state of Illinois, graduate on time, according to Complete College America.

Complete College America is an organization that provides information on graduation rates and retention statewide and nationwide, and it advocates ways to help increase graduation rates and reduce student’s time to graduate.

For full-time students in Illinois, 17 percent graduate on time while 39 percent graduate in six years, accordant to its website.

“Colleges habitually report their graduation rates in six-year increments,” Herrington-Perry said.

Students do not graduate within four years because they tend to earn extra credit hours from what the state requires, according to the Four-Year Myth report from Complete College America.

The average graduate in non-top public colleges in Illinois, such as Eastern, completes up to 130.8 credit hours, according to Four-Year Myth report.

Eastern’s 2014 average for credit hours to degree is 138.

“On average, our majors require students to complete 123 hours,” Herrington-Perry said. “By state law, a bachelor’s degree has to have 120.”

Herrington-Perry said one of the reasons why the number of credit hours Eastern students take is high is because of students’ choice to increase their knowledge.

“Majors want to have some ability to study in areas outside their major to complement what they are doing,” she said. “Our programs are not requiring them to take way more than the average.”

Herrington-Perry said in order for Eastern students to graduate in four years, they need to take 15 credit hours each semester to obtain a total of 120 credit hours.

“On average, our students finish less than 13 credit hours a semester,” she said. “Students have got to get used to thinking about 15 hours a semester on average if they’re going to graduate in four years.”

Only 50 out of more than 580 public four-year institutions in the U.S. have graduation rates at or above 50 percent for first-time graduates, according to the Complete College America website.

Another factor contributing to graduation rates is retention.

Herrington-Perry said members of Eastern’s Center for Academic Support and Assessment have gathered data in the last two years about the characteristics that will determine if an incoming student will remain at Eastern.

“What they find is that the most common indicator is financial,” she said.

Herrington-Perry said the financial factor depends on how large the gap is between financial aid granted and the cost of attendance.

“The larger that gap in unmet need, the more likely a student is to not be retained,” she said. “We are really trying to reach out to students make them more aware of what their responsibilities are and what the alternatives are in getting their bills paid.”

The two extra years it takes most students in the U.S. to graduate causes a 70 percent increase on student debt among borrows, according to Temple University and the University of Texas-Austin.

Herrington-Perry said Eastern has initiatives for students to graduate in four years.

“We have all kinds of measures in place to help our students,” she said.

She said while all Eastern majors have four-year degree plans, the university also offers a four-year program and a two-year program.

“Both of these are intrusive advising programs (that) are designed to help students who want to graduate in four years stay on track to graduation,” Herrington-Perry said.

Herrington-Perry said Eastern has mandatory academic advising to ensure students choose the right courses and take the right number of credit hours.

“Eastern is still reasonably unique in requiring our students to meet with an academic adviser before they can register for courses,” she said.

Easter also allows students to run their own degree-audit, which shows students what they need to take next, what they have left to take, and courses the student has taken but do not fall under their requirements.

Herrington-Perry said she is pleased with Eastern’s current graduation rate.

“I don’t anticipate there will be much difference, we have held pretty steady,” she said.

Debby Hernandez can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].