WU strives to increase graduation rate
Ninety percent in six years. That is the mantra being repeated in the corridors of Brookings Hall by administrators who hope to increase Washington University’s six-year graduation rate to 90 percent.
WU already has pulled its graduation rates up over the past few years. According to Associate Vice Chancellor Dennis Martin, the students that entered WU in the early 1990s had a six-year graduation rate of 86 percent. By 1996, WU students were graduating at a rate of 88 percent, and Martin believes that the figure should climb even higher in upcoming years.
“In looking at comparable institutions, we see no reason why we should not exceed a 90 percent level,” said Martin. “This is the six-year graduation rate at places like the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Northwestern, and Columbia. We are optimistic that we will see continued improvement in our rate.”
Several universities in Missouri and Illinois have instituted policies in order to achieve similar goals. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, schools such as Western Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, and Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville all have recently begun to place a greater emphasis on their graduation rates, in part because if more students graduate within four to six years, the universities that they attend are ranked higher in national rankings.
Further improvement in the graduation rate at WU may be hindered, however, by the new Arts & Sciences curriculum and by students choosing to study abroad and double major.
According to Martin, WU students are increasingly choosing the latter path, with 43 percent of graduates double majoring. This has the potential to decrease the graduation rate, as majoring in multiple areas means requirements to take more classes and, thus, often takes more time.
However, many WU students are proving more resourceful and levelheaded in confronting this stress. Sophomore Peter Laakman tentatively plans on majoring in both psychology and marketing, yet he maintained that satisfying the requirements of both majors before the end of his senior year will “not be a problem.”
“The business school and psychology department make it feasible for us to get out of here in four years since we don’t have to worry as much about the cluster system or distribution requirements,” said Laakman.
Senior Nitin Bhojraj will graduate in the spring of 2003 and will leave the university with three majors: finance, international business, and Spanish. Similar to Laakman, Bhojraj’s majors are in both the College of Arts & Sciences and the business school.
Bhojraj explained that one of the reasons he came to Washington University was because the university “allowed students to double-major between the various schools, whereas most other colleges only allow you to double-major within one specific school.” In spite of the seemingly heavy workload, Bhojraj planned so well during his first couple of years that he actually managed to attend the university for two semesters as a part-time student, but will still graduate in four years.
Also, the choices that students make when selecting their classes can prove to be beneficial in multiple fields. For instance, Bhojraj managed to contribute to the completion of all three of his majors when he took Business Spanish, which covered a variety of topics.
Similarly, for Arts and Sciences student Elizabeth Swary, the class Introduction to Cultural Anthropology also proved quite useful, satisfying Cultural Diversity, Social Differentiation, and Social Science requirements.
Joseph Loewenstein, professor of English, believes that these types of classes are exactly the kinds of conveniences that the university provides so that students like Laakman and Bhorjaj can realistically pursue multiple majors.
Loewenstein, one of many people involved in designing the new Arts and Sciences curriculum, explained that the recently instituted cluster system shows no signs of hindering students on their way to two or even three majors or to graduating.
He also noted that students are not required to complete clusters that fall under the same disciplines as their majors, and the clusters that students are required to take often partially contribute to their majors as well.
WU’s graduation rate also may fluctuate due to circumstances beyond the university’s control, according to Loewenstein. For instance, because of the current economic downturn, it is possible that some students may find it necessary to work more during the year or perhaps delay completion of their degrees as economic concerns rise to the forefront and demand immediate attention.
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