Five Tips for Improving College Graduation Rates

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It’s only May the first and yet on campuses across the country students and their dedicated professors, administrators and parents alike are buzzing about one thing GRADUATION!

Yes the last four years, or two as may be the case for some are coming to an end for thousands of young people, eager to make their mark on the world. All that stands [now] between the graduate and the top of the ladder, is the ladder (author unknown). But as Senator Orrin Hatch famously said, There is a good reason they call these ceremonies “commencement exercises.” Graduation is not the end; the beginning. How right Senator Hatch is.

While reflecting on the future of our students at graduation time, its easy to forget of all of the things that we do in our schools, colleges and universities to get our students to this point. After all, if it weren’t for dedicated professionals like you, you can bet that few students would ever make it this far. And the numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics tells us that there is more work to be done. According to the 2016 NCES Data, the percentage of first-time, full-time degree seeking undergraduates completing their degree within 150% of the normal timeframe (6 years for a Bachelor’s Degree, and 3 years for an Associate’s degree) has been somewhat flat year over year for the last 3-5 years.  

Nearly 59 percent of students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2009 completed that degree within 6 years.

At 2-year degree-granting institutions, 29 percent of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began seeking a certificate or associate’s degree in fall 2012 attained it within 150 percent of the normal time required for these programs.

Improving graduation rates has been a part of the national conversation in higher-ed for decades, and over the years we’ve learned a thing or two about what works, so this month I’m sharing a few tips from schools and colleges around the country.

Develop a suggested curriculum map

Some schools use a suggested curriculum map that includes course schedules by term for every major, including the critical courses. Not only does this aid in getting students to register for the right courses at the right times, but it also helps their advisors choose appropriate courses to get back on track if students fall behind.

Set the stage for student success

When schools require students to take orientation courses focusing on study habits, time management, note taking, being a successful student, their attrition rates are lower.

Encourage students to attend full-time 

A CUNY pilot program called the ASAP program required students to attend full-time in an accelerated program. To be fair, it included intensive advising and tutoring services where advisors met with students up to 60 or more times a year. It nearly doubled graduation rates compared to a control group of students.

Automate student outreach

Send congratulatory messages to students who are doing well or show improvement, or a message to students who drop as little as .25 in their GPA. More than half of students who drop below a 2.0 will drop out. Don’t wait until a student is struggling to intervene, and don’t forget to encourage those students who are knocking it out of the park.

Consider success coaching

At Florida State University, biweekly meetings with trained academic coaches yielded a significant improvement in retention and ultimately paid for itself with new tuition revenue within three years.

What are you doing on campus to help students graduate? I love hearing from you and you can email me at

Until next time, here’s my favorite quote for inspiring graduates:

Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Make a Great Day!

Peter Terebesi