A report sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reveals that the nation’s higher education system is facing a dropout crisis. Produced in part by college presidents, the report titled “The American Dream 2.0” reveals that U.S. universities graduate, on average, an astoundingly low 54 percent of their students within six years. The group says facts such as these are “eroding the American Dream and weakening our nation’s ability to compete.”
Not at USC. Here, the administration does everything in its power to keep students enrolled and to ensure they graduate. And they should.
For the past two years, USC has graduated 90 percent of students within six years, almost 40 points higher than the average and within the range of the country’s top private universities.
As Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Jackson told the Daily Trojan, 25 years ago “[the] six-year graduation rate was in the mid-60s . . .”
This year, for the first time, that number is climbing to 91 percent. Percentages such as this one inspire confidence and trust in the university and ensures students don’t feel like they’re being left out on their own.
Students also say these statistics mean USC is committed to academic excellence.
“We are at a time when having a college degree is necessary to have a job that is part of a successful career path. Having such a high retention rate means that USC is not only doing a fantastic job of accepting committed students, but making sure they graduate,” Jesus-Eduardo Dillon, a freshman majoring in industrial and systems engineering, explained.
The importance of a college degree cannot be overstated. With countless studies demonstrating the increased pay of college graduates versus non-graduates, USC’s intensive commitment to student retention demonstrates its desire to give students the best opportunity to succeed. Students say a host of factors help explain USC’s exceptional job at retaining students.
To officially drop out of USC, students are asked to fill out a leave of absence, allowing them to return to the university if they choose.
The reasons for leaving are diverse. They range from academic troubles to religious missions to military service in a foreign country. Students who are forced to leave the university because of factors beyond their control should not be forgotten. Everyone deserves the chance to graduate, and the importance of letting students know they are always welcome back cannot be overstated.
The university tracks every student who fails to register on time and, after accounting for most students, Gene Bickers, vice provost for Undergraduate Programs, deals with the unaccountables.
“When the last day of the registration period has passed, we run a report of all students that we don’t expect to graduate in the impending semester who are not re-enrolled,” Bickers said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “If we still have not accounted for a student and we haven’t been able to track what they are doing, they get a follow-up email from me. We ask if we can help.”
Bickers said the university has even contacted students over Facebook to reach out and let them know they have options if they are thinking about dropping out.
“We ask if they are running into financial problems, collections problems and if there is there anything we can do.”
Other universities might consider modeling USC’s strategy for retaining students. Though USC undoubtedly holds advantages over similar schools in campus appearance, location and social life.
Bickers and his staff are outstanding examples of using the new opportunities technology provides us to make a difference in the dropout rate. Keeping tabs on students who leave the university and using social media to get in touch with struggling students sets us apart from other universities, but these aspects can also be used to help other universities.
The 1-3 percent of students who take more than five years to complete their undergraduate degree also receive attention and resources from Bickers and the undergraduate programs department. If a student is planning on taking more than five years to graduate, they receive a letter the summer before their sixth year that emphasizes the university’s intent to graduate them the following summer and offers additional advisement options. If students are having difficulty transferring credits from another college, the university assists them with that process.
In the face of a dropout crisis, USC continues to show commitment to its students. Bickers and the staff he works with have ensured that the American dream is alive and well at USC.
Nathaniel Haas is a freshman majoring in economics and political science.