Graduation rate affects funding

Jessie Hellmann

USI receives less state funding than most other schools in Indiana. One of the reasons for this is USI’s low graduation rate.

For first time, full-time, degree seeking students the graduation rate is 14 to 17 percent, USI President Linda Bennett said. State funding is also affected when a student takes longer than four years to complete their degree.

“I think we can do better (regarding graduation rates),” Bennett said. ”I think the institution can do better. I think students can do better.”

Ninety-seven percent of the University’s funding comes from state funding and tuition, she said.

Bennett said USI is starting this fiscal year with the budget the school had in 2008, but with 700 additional students.
She said the university’s level of funding by the state per student is half of Indiana State University’s. To deal with this, the University has increased the tuition 4.5 percent.

“The actual dollars paid from our 4.5 increase for this year is less than a three percent increase at another campus,” Bennett said.

Despite upcoming tuition increases, USI remains the most affordable bachelor degree granting institution in Indiana.

“We try to maintain a focus on affordability,” Bennett said.

Students transfer away from USI, and this can affect state funding as well.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 68 percent of freshmen returned to USI for their sophomore year in 2009, the second lowest among Indiana’s five bachelor degree granting public institutions. Bennett said sometimes students’ transfer away from USI because of personal reasons or finances.

“USI has a very focused package of degree programs, and there are times when students do not find a specific degree field that they are looking for, so they look to other institutions for those degree fields,” Bennett said.

This was the case for Junior Chinese and philosophy major Samuel Lyden. Lyden said he came to USI because he did not apply to any other schools, but he knew from the start he would not stay all four years.

He transferred from USI to Indiana University after two years.

“I started in the Chinese program at USI,” he said. “After two years, there was still not even a possibility of a minor there.”

To improve the graduation rate, the university is going to try to improve the advising experience for students and help students understand what the requirements are to graduate.

The low graduation rate for first time, full-time degree seeking students is not the only aspect affecting state funding to the institution.

State funding to the university is affected every time a student drops a class, Bennett said.

She said the university is productive in terms of helping students complete their degrees, and the graduation rate does not capture the accomplishments of part time students and transfer students.

If one were to look at the degrees awarded by the university instead, they would see the number of bachelors degrees awarded has increased 25 percent over the last decade, Bennett said.

The policy makers in Indianapolis look at everything in a linear process, she said. Some things may happen during ones college career that may cause them to take longer to graduate.

“Life is not a straight line, “ she said. “In life, things happen. To me, the person that gets that degree is a phenomenal success. Even if it takes them a little longer.”