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Solving the Four-Year Problem in Higher Education

Higher Education

By Lawrence Don (Butler)

As 2016 dawns on us in the United States, higher education obtainment is at an all-time high. According to Lumina Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization, by 2020 two-thirds of all jobs will require some form of post-secondary education. Today only 42% of young adults in the United States have some kind of post-secondary credential, which puts our nation at 13th among developed nations worldwide. 

Many questions arise as to why our nation’s students are coming up short in obtaining higher education. Nowadays, academic institutions devote considerable resources to top-heavy recruiting initiatives to attract students to their world class institutions and nationally ranked programs. But, once students are admitted that’s when the real dilemma starts of staying on informed and on-track to graduate on-time. Only 50 of the more than 580 public four-year institutions in America have on-time graduation rates at or above 50 percent for their full-time students. Higher education is at a critical juncture to deliver on its promise to serve and develop its students in a way that is financially responsible and sustainable. Today, many prospective students and their families are doing their research to ensure a four year degree completion. 

Where has the academic system led U.S. students astray? Those watching the problem have been able to identify a bevy of culprits ranging from credits lost in transfer, unavailable critical courses, uninformed choices of majors, low credit hours accumulation each semester, broken remediation sequences and excessive credit requirements administered. Today, critics contend more students are overwhelmed by too many choices and too little structure, causing aimless wandering resulting in wasted semesters and years.

Various theories and models have been served up to encourage on-time graduation. One method called Guided Pathway to Success (GPS), created by Complete College America, uses six key strategies to ensure higher education institutions are better serving their students by emphasizing the institution's mission and goals. Another emerging strategy institutions have been promoting is a four-year graduation guarantee. The premise of these four–year graduation guarantees is to prioritize the students’ academic goals to graduate in the appropriate time through an honored contract by the institution. And, if for any reason the institution does not meet its part of the four year contract, the university will compensate the student for the additional course(s). The University of The Pacific and University at Buffalo, have been a few of many institutions to implement this strategy. 

Savvy administrators have also been enlisting influential student organizations to boost graduation initiatives. Fraternities in particular are in prime position to help their institutions achieve more respectable graduation rates. Fraternities assist higher education institutions with retention and allow for students to feel at home while they are pursuing their undergraduate degree. Fraternities have structures in place to require study hours on-campus, G.P.A. requirements to enable social privileges, peer counseling, membership qualification that facilitate academic achievement, educational/vocational workshops, and scholarships. At the University of Georgia, for instance, the Interfraternity Council (IFC) has organized a scholarship committee to ensure academic excellence is met by all the collegiate fraternities on campus. The same student-run governance council requires fraternities to achieve a 3.00 chapter GPA each semester to allow for social privileges. Another great example of how to improve on-time graduation could be found at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where fraternity members came up with 100 ideas for scholarship programming. Fraternities, IFCs, and alumni advisory boards have a major role to play in building academic support frameworks to encourage on-time graduation becomes a priority for every host institution. 

It’s vital for colleges to deliver on their commitment to every student. To make a difference going forward, it will take a campus community working together to solve issues that arise so that the experiences can be mutually beneficial. Fraternities can continue to provide for the well-being of their members during their collegiate endeavors by enabling academic resources to optimize the four-year college experience.

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