Most local colleges and universities are having problems graduating their first-time full-time students on time, according to a national database released by a renowned educational news service.
Augusta Technical College is the only local institution to place high among its peer group, ranking 11th out of 40 two-year colleges in Georgia with 35.9 percent of these students graduating in two years and 41.9 percent in three.
Other colleges did not fare as well. Augusta State University placed lower, with 6.9 percent of students graduating in four years and 24.5 percent in six, ranking it 17 out of 25 four-year colleges in Georgia.
“We’re always working on the graduation rate because it’s the basis of what we’re trying to do – graduate people so they can go to work,” said Augusta Tech President Terry Elam.
The database shows 24 percent of students in Georgia graduating on time from four-year public universities, ranking the state 30th in the country.
South Carolina fared better, ranking 17th in the country by graduating 38.8 percent of students in four years.
The Chronicle of Higher Education partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create the database, whose officials tout it as producing tangible information about America’s schools of higher education.
“Until the American public and legislative policy makers have a better grasp of the data in terms of who graduates, what are the numbers looking like regionally, locally, nationally, it’s hard to come up with solutions when you’re not really sure of the full picture,” said Amy Alexander, the editorial promotions manager for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The data only includes first-time, full-time students because the U.S. government doesn’t track part-time and transfer students, who often account for a large percentage of a school’s enrollment.
ASU director of institutional research and coordinator of student retention Mary Filpus-Luyckx said the low graduation rate at her school could be because of the high number of working students balancing families and studies along with a large population of students accepted who don’t meet admission standards.
To address the problem, the school is developing a strategic plan to improve academic achievement and is working with state leaders in Gov. Nathan Deal’s Complete College Georgia initiative.
“We are very concerned with our graduation rate, and that’s why it’s part of our strategic plan,” Filpus-Luyckx said.
Georgia is part of the Complete College America program that works with legislators and educators to increase college graduates. The state schools are required to submit improvement plans for their campuses to add 250,000 graduates by 2020.
“To have a successful future in Georgia, and remain competitive nationwide and globally, we have to have an educated workforce, and that means we need to do a better job getting people into college, make sure they receive a high-quality education and then graduate them,” Deal said in a news release.
Paine College was 21st out of 29 four-year private institutions in Georgia with 9.9 percent of students graduating in four years and 26.2 percent in six.
Paine Provost Marcus Tillery declined comment about the college’s graduation trends.
In South Carolina, Aiken Technical College graduated 6.5 percent of students on time and 14.2 percent in three years.
It ranked 8th out of 20 two-year public colleges in the state.
University of South Carolina Aiken was near the bottom of four-year colleges in the state, coming in 11th out of 12 with 19.4 percent graduating in four years and 38 percent in six.
According to a statement from the university, the school has been working to increase its six-year graduation rate and reached 42 percent in 2011, which was not included in the database.
The school is also evaluating its admission process to “better predict the ability and motivation of prospective students to succeed in college,” according to the statement.
Elam said graduation rates are important for student success but may soon also have a financial impact as the state is considering awarding funding based on performance.
Even though the school ranked high among its peers, he said work is never done.
“Are we happy with our (graduation rate)?” he asked. “No. We’re happy with our rank, but we want to improve it.”