Saturday, January 26, 2013

The University of Wisconsin's Initiative

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal covered an announcement by the University of Wisconsin that they would begin offering a degree without classes.   The UW breathlessly announced that they would begin this "flexible option" to allow a student to take a series of exams to complete a degree.   They never have to enter a classroom or even meet another student.

There are many students across the country that have picked up units over their lifetimes that would like to get a degree and the UW option seems like something which will help a very small number of them.  So bully for this initiative.

But I began to wonder a bit about a more important indicator.   According to their own records, the University of Wisconsin Madison - the premier campus of the UW system has a four year graduation rate of 52%.   So if you actually do enroll in classes, you have just over a 50% chance of completing a degree in four years.   The UW claims that the six year rate moves up to a bit over 80%.   For the entire "system" (which includes the non-flagship campuses) the number dumps to about 60% for the most recent year available.   So 60% of the people who start a college degree in the UW system can obtain one in 150% of the expected time to degree.

UW Green Bay is a good example of what happens in the system.   Of frosh who are admitted, barely one student in five graduates in four years.  When you bump it up to six years that number skyrockets to 50.5%.   For transfer students, who might well have a bit more dedication, the six year rate goes to a whopping 62%.  

Kevin Reilly, the president of the system, comments on the website - "This UW System is focused on providing Wisconsin with world-class education, research and public service. We are growing Wisconsin’s knowledge economy by helping more state residents earn college degrees, and we are committed to opening the doors of the university to talented students from families across Wisconsin, regardless of background." (Emphasis added)   So president Reilly, wouldn't it be a better use of resources to try to move up the graduation rate for the entire system to something north of 3 students in 5 paying fees for six years to get a degree?

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