Flat-rate tuition falls short of expectations in increasing graduation rates

Graduation guaranteed, but maybe not in four years.

Provost Nowell Donovan said that the flat-rate tuition implemented in 2001 has had limited success because many students are not taking advantage of the system and still graduating in more than four years.

Patrick Miller, the registrar and director of enrollment management, said this tuition system does not require full-time students to pay per credit hour. The flat-rate is applicable anywhere from 12 to 18 credit hours, he said.

“We hope block tuition serves as an incentive to carry more hours, be more academically involved and graduate in a more timely fashion,” Miller said.

Donovan said although the flat-rate tuition has improved the graduation rate, it has not achieved the expectations it had at the time it was established: rather than taking the 15 or 18 hours possible, the average student still takes only about 13 hours, he said.

“Students seem to be taking longer by choice,” Donovan said. “It hasn’t worked as effectively or efficiently as we thought it might because we are dealing with a whole variety of pathways to the degree.”

Donovan said although the flat-rate tuition has not reached expectations, the university will not get rid of it because it seems to have helped improve graduation rates for a number of students.

Cathy Coghlan, the assistant director of institutional research, said in 2000, the four-year graduation rate was 44.9 percent; in 2004, it jumped to 54 percent. These are the latest figures available.

However, Donovan said, the limited success of the flat-rate tuition proves that another incentive, like a four-year graduation guarantee, would probably not be effective.

According to a news release by Mercer University, a private institution in Macon, Ga., a four-year graduation guarantee was established in order to cut costs of education and re-establish the idea that students should graduate in four years rather than the national average, which now exceeds five years.

If students follow the guidelines of the guarantee, which include enrolling full-time, maintaining good grades and meeting routinely with their advisors, and they still do not graduate in four years, Mercer pledges to pay for all additional classes, on-campus housing and meal plans for the remaining time it takes the students to graduate, according to the release.

Miller said he does not think TCU would implement a guarantee like this anytime soon.

“It just doesn’t seem to me to be consistent with the culture here,” Miller said. “I think we would all say it is desirable to graduate in four years, but I think it’s important for us to recognize that students have different experiences here. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.”

Chancellor Victor Boschini agreed that the rate of matriculation doesn’t depend on a guideline or an incentive, but rather each student’s own experience and attitude.

“There are all these external forces, but you are still the biggest driver on ‘will I get good grades, will I graduate in four years, will I choose my major, will I have a good experience in general,'” Boschini said. “It really depends on what you put into it.”

Miller said what is more important than an impressive graduation rate is outstanding student engagement. This refers to how students are involved and connected to the campus community, he said.

Miller said he believes if the university places student engagement above other factors, positive changes such as an increase in four-year graduation rates will fall into place.

Coghlan said the new Brown-Lupton University Union as well as the second-year residential requirement has increased student engagement, which in turn has influenced student success.

While having students graduate in four years is a priority for Boschini, he said the biggest priority is that every student has positive experiences in the classroom and with the university as a whole.

“I don’t want anybody leaving here ever feeling, no matter if they stayed for four years or 40 years, that they didn’t get a quality education,” Boschini said.

For 2008-09 school year (per semester)

1 – 8 hours: $935 per hour

9 – 11 hours: $1,135 per hour

Flat-rate tuition, 12-18 credit hours: $13,450

Source: Admissions Office

2000 graduation rate: 44.9 percent

2004 graduation rate: 54 percent

Source: Cathy Coghlan, assistant director of institutional research

Top 3 Reasons for Delayed Graduation:

Switched Majors: 35 percent

Retook Course(s): 11.1 percent

Misadvised: 9.5 percent

Source: Graduating Senior Survey, 2007-2008