Based on graduation rates since 2009, the current percentage of USF students graduating in four years is staggering—and not for the better. According to vice provost Peter Novak, head of the Office for Student Development, the percentage of USF students who graduate in four years is 52 percent, while those who graduate in six years make up 70 percent. of the rest Based on the percentages, there is a significant proportion of students who stay longer than the intended four years to graduate, and most do so in six years.
Therefore in the spring of 2010, USF introduced the Stay on Track program, a technology-based strategy to track students’ academic progress at USF. The goal is to improve USF’s graduation rate, as well as the retention rate (to retain students from transferring to other universities). Novak said the university is looking at every permutation to support each student academically, personally and socially.
There are a number of reasons why students are not graduating in four years. Some have jobs, others take on double majors and so on. Novak said that one of the reasons why USF decreased summer tuition was to address this problem. Novak said, “We have three weeks during the summer school session, which was discounted 33 percent for tuition cost and housing. This way students could still work full time during the summer, and take on a quick three week class to stay on track.”
Novak has worked at other institutions like Yale University, where the graduation rate is 98 percent and the school only allows for students to stay for 8 semesters or terms of enrollment.
Novak addressed that he is not planning to adopt any methods from other education institutions, yet he plans to look at best practices from around the country. Novak said, “One example is a new program called Map Works, where students fill out a survey and we compare their provided information with their individual data, such as SAT scores, to see where we need to help them the most. Map Works will provide a map for us to help that individual student. We are looking at the overall advising process and seeing how we can streamline that, make it more effective.”
The program seeks for better one-on-one communications with advisors, making sure that not only do students receive accurate information, but also that advisors know the right information to provide students with.
In the past, there have been cases of misadvising. Students had difficulty obtaining the information they needed, leading them from one office to another, and switching back and forth to get what was needed to complete their education.
Kieran McGoldrick, a senior and entrepreneurship major, will be graduating in fall 2011, a semester after his fourth year. McGoldrick changed his major, which resulted in him having to stay at USF longer. McGoldrick expressed that he did not receive adequate assistance from USF, to know exactly what he needed to do to be able to finish school on time.
McGoldrick said, “They gave no help. Different people in different offices gave different information about the same thing. One advisor [said] I’m good to graduate, and another [said] I need two more classes. It’s …inefficient for both them and us students. They should communication rather than handling each case or person individually.”
Prior to the stay on track program, the school was essentially doing the same things it is doing now. However, the program places a new concentrated effort on it, like better advising.
The stay on track program is focusing on the bigger scale, to address problems like McGoldrick faced. Novak said that the program is working to make sure that advisors don’t misadvise. “We have to balance student responsibility and accountability with making sure advising is correct, and everyone knows exactly what is expected of them,” he said.
WebTrack is another program that was created to ensure consistency in terms of advising that is provided to students, so that students are aware what they need to do when becoming admitted to the university. WebTrack enables students to register prior to their new student orientation. WebTrack branched out of the Stay on Track program.
WebTrack becomes available to students once they are admitted. Students log into WebTrack from the comfort of their own homes, are requested to select a major and view information about everything at USF. The software takes the student through the process of how to log onto USFconnect, how to look up courses, and it maps out exactly what courses the student needs to take in their first semester.
At the end of the program, the students are prompted to take a review quiz. After completing the quiz, the student hold is lifted and they are then able to register for their pre- selected class. Once completed, faculty review student class selections to make sure that there are no mistakes and contact students by phone.
Novak said, “WebTrack has made a huge difference, so much better, so much easier, all of the information is there and it is consistent.”
WebTrack illustrates what a student schedule should look like. It also allows students to download course maps per specific majors what each semester course outline be for the entire four years. WebTrack also provides international tutorials, in a number of languages, which allows for foreign exchange students to be provided with the same consistent streamlined process.
Freshman and communications major, Ajouni Singh went through the WebTrack tutorial. Singh said, “I thought it was very informative and kept me focused on what I need to get done. The program showed me how to register, after I registered I received a phone call from someone at USF, they advised me that I had to switch around a class because what I had chosen was not fulfilling my general-ed properly. I like the personal advising.”
By improving USF’s four-year graduation rate from the current 52 percent, the university’s academic reputation also improves. Novak said, “One of the best things you can do for yourself and for your institution is to graduate in four years.”
Currently the Academic Committee is looking at statistics, policies, and procedures to figure out what they can change for the better. Novak said a townhall session is in the works to provide an outlet for students and faculty to come together and discuss what they could do to improve.
Although the program is meant to improve graduation rates for current students, it is also meant to alleviate another indirect problem. When students stay longer, it prevents others from getting an education at USF. Novak said, “we also have a certain capacity number, so the more students that are staying around the fewer students we can bring into the process.”
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