College graduation rates in Minnesota are slowly but steadily on the rise, according to a report released Monday by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.
At the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus in 2008, 66 percent of college students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in six years, compared to 56 percent in 2004.
System-wide graduation rates were at 61 percent in 2008, compared to 53 percent in 2004.
The 13-credit rule, the Graduation Planner and increased adviser awareness have helped raise graduation rates, said Robert McMaster, Vice Provost and Dean of undergraduate education.
The University has also been reviewing curriculum and degree requirements to make sure they are manageable for a four-year graduation, McMaster said.
The Office of Higher Education’s report took into account only full-time, degree-seeking students who completed their bachelor’s degree at one university.
The University’s increase was the largest among all Minnesota colleges and universities, though private institutions in Minnesota reported a higher graduation rate at about 72 percent in 2008.
Private universities are more likely to have higher graduation rates because most of the students live on campus and are “students first, employees second,” said Barb Schlaefer, director of communications for the Office of Higher Education.
Universities haven’t put much focus on graduation rates in the past, she said, but now are making a conscious effort to improve them.
“In general, unless institutions focus their attention and efforts toward increasing graduation rates, it doesn’t get done,” Schlaefer said.
The University has set a goal to increase graduation rates, and by 2012 it is aiming for a four-year graduation rate of 60 percent, five-year rate of 75 percent and six-year rate of 80 percent.
The University has been working to enforce the message that students should plan to graduating in four years, McMaster said.
“It’s cultural,” he said. “It needs to be a common goal that all students want to graduate in four years. Then it becomes the expectation that four-year graduation is the rule, not the exception.”
The University still lags behind most schools in the Big Ten Conference, sharing last place with the University of Iowa. Northwestern University had the highest graduation rate among Big Ten schools with 94 percent of students graduating in six years, followed by the University of Michigan with 88 percent.
However, the most popular out-of-state school for Minnesota residents, North Dakota State University, reported a 47 percent graduation rate.
McMaster said it is in the best interest of both students and universities to graduate on time, especially in the current economic situation.
“We don’t want our students taking on a debt load that is going to cumber them for years when they get out of school,” he said. “We tell students, ‘Keep your loans to a minimum and debt to a minimum,’ and the best way to do that is to graduate in four years.”