Graduation rates decline

The graduation rate at Florida A&M has declined over the past decade, while retention rates have fluctuated, but only slightly.

Nonetheless, William Hudson Jr., who serves jointly as the director of retention in the office of academic affairs, and interim vice president of student affairs, wants to change that.

As it stands, the graduation rate for students matriculating in four years is 10.83 percent; 28.93 percent in five years; and 38.56 percent in six years, according to the most recent graduation and retention rate data report from 2008-09, which can be accessed on the university’s web site, as well as the Florida Board of Governor’s website.

“Graduation takes four years, not six. You do not want to set a precedent that graduation takes six years. We know that there are certain issues that come up that prohibit graduating within a four year period… but, students should focus on taking 15 hours per semester, in order to graduate on time,” Hudson said.

FAMU’s graduation rates may appear bleak, but the six-year graduation rate of 38.56 percent is close to the national average of 40 percent at four-year institutions, according to Public Agenda, a non-partisan research group funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. However, a number of factors contribute to this descending trend, namely financial difficulties and family issues. According to findings by Public Agenda, 45 percent of students enrolled at four-year institutions work more than 20 hours per week and 23 percent of all college attendees have dependent children.

In a speech he gave at the University of Texas-Austin on Aug. 9, President Barack Obama cited the growing financial disparities in higher education. Among those disproportions is tuition and housing costs, which have risen 439 percent, compared to a 147 percent rise in median family income since 1982, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Those rising costs have a direct impact on FAMU students, of whom, 50 percent receive need-based financial aid, according to the most recent FAMU Fact Book from 2008-2009.

Retention rates at FAMU, which have remained relatively steady since 1999-2000 academic year, can affect the graduation rate.

“Most people hear retention and think of students returning to school… it’s more so a linear process that measures that recruitment of students, the retention of students, along with their academic progression,” Hudson said.

Retention rates fluctuate by year and this ebb and flow can be contributed to a number of factors, financial troubles being chief among them. Examining the graduation and retention rate data report, as students ascend in academic classification, retention descends. For example, 100 percent of the graduating class of 2009 returned for their second year. But by the time they reached their fourth year in 2008-09, only 63.95 percent were enrolled.

The Office of Retention, a Title III program and a component of academic affairs, is utilizing all available resources to ensure that students entering FAMU as FTIC students are able to finish with relative ease. “The office of retention was established to assist students, faculty and staff to retain students and guide them toward graduation,” according to Hudson. As a part of an effort to improve the retention and graduation rate, the office holds calling campaigns, hosts a bi-annual change of major fair, and makes sure all of the estimated 5,000 freshmen and sophomore students as well as some upperclassmen it serves are properly advised. Aside from financial problems, Hudson also other reasons retention and graduation rates are in their current state.

“Some students come to college and tend to lose focus. 80 percent of students who attend classes pass their classes the first time, Hudson said. “We’re focusing on professors taking attendance during every class to ensure that students have the resources they need to progress.” Becoming heavily involved in extra-curricular activities can deter students from taking advantages of the plethora of academic resources that FAMU has offer, as well as from focusing on scholastics. Tutoring labs, the Quality Enhancement Plan, which instructs students on the critical thinking skills necessary for success in all classes are available to students, but are seldom attended.

Organizations like the Marching “100,” which is known to practice twice a day at times, including weekends; step, dance and modeling troupes, and even some sports teams can often take precedent over what is most important in college, academics.

“I typically tell students it’s ok to be involved in things, but 80 percent of your time should be devoted to academics. For every 3 credit hours, you take, at least 6 hours (a week) of studying should be devoted to that class,” Hudson said. The office of retention works closely with some athletic teams and is making an effort to reach out to more extra-curricular organizations to promote scholastics.