Graduation and retention rates for The University of Alabama are higher than the national average, UA spokeswoman Cathy Andreen said.
Andreen said the six-year graduation rate for freshmen who started at the Capstone in 2006 was 66.5 percent. On the other hand, the retention rate for freshman enrolling in 2011 and returning in 2012 was 85.4 percent.
The National Center for Education Statistics estimates approximately 56 percent of male and 61 percent of female first-time, full-time students who sought a bachelor’s degree at a four year institution in fall 2004 completed their degree at that institution within six years.
“Student success is the University’s top priority. The University has numerous programs in place to help students succeed academically and become engaged with the campus community,” Andreen said.
Stephen Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center at the University, agrees with Andreen that despite disparaging cuts in state funding in fiscal year 2013, the University has made solid progress.
“You asked about what the University has done to improve graduation rates; UA has implemented many programs, including DegreeWorks, innovative programs targeted to specific student groups to improve retention and degree completion of its undergraduates,” Katsinas said. “Has enough been done, and is funding for these programs at levels UA faculty and administrative leaders prefer? Probably not, but solid progress has been made in spite of the half a billion dollar cumulative state disinvestment.”
Katsinas also pointed to some evidence that the state of Alabama graduation and enrollment rates could be low, not due to school size, but instead due to the Pell Grant eligibility changes and small state-funded need-based student financial aid programs.
“In the fall of 2012, 47 of the 62 community colleges in these three deep South states reported an enrollment decline compared to the fall of 2011. More than 5,000 students at the 62 community colleges immediately lost their Pell eligibility,” Katsinas said. “A common characteristic across these three states is the very small state investments into state-funded need-based student financial aid. In effect, the Pell Grant program is our state’s de facto need-based student aid program. At The University of Alabama, the number of Pell recipients has grown from about 3,800 in 2008-2009 to over 5,800 in 2011-2012.”
Katsinas said with “abrupt” changes to Pell Grant eligibility restrictions, student enrollments haven fallen across the state, especially in traditionally poorer counties in the Alabama Black Belt region where “it is not uncommon to find 12-15 percent unemployment, in both public regional four-year and two-year colleges.”
“There have been no major federally funded grants over the past twenty years to study higher education completion rates, K-12 to college connections, transfer or differences in completion rates between larger and smaller institutions, etc., specifically targeted to rural areas,” Katsinas said. “Rural America comprises 20 percent of the U.S. population, but a fifth of federal studies are not devoted to rural areas.
“One recent new study reported that less than 3 percent of private philanthropy is devoted to rural America, like Alabama. It appears that too much of our federal education establishment and philanthropic community, Alabama is a ‘fly-over’ state. Such studies are of only very limited value to policymakers and lead practitioners, e.g. presidents, chief academic officers, chief student affairs officers, in deep South states interested in improving college degree completion.”