MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Middle Tennessee State University is making efforts to increase its graduation rate, but still just over half its students are completing college within six years.
According to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, 53 percent of MTSU students who began in fall 2004 graduated by 2010. That was fourth-best among the state’s four-year public universities. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was tops with 67 percent. Tennessee Tech had a 55 percent graduation rate, and UT-Martin’s rate was 54 percent.
Nearly half of students enrolling at MTSU don’t graduate, and nearly a fifth don’t make it past freshmen year.
Higher Education Commission Policy Adviser David Wright told the The Tennessean that the school’s graduation rate is improving. In 2006, the six-year graduation rate was only 47 percent.
“We want everybody to make those kinds of improvements,” Wright said.
State education officials have a goal of increasing graduation rates in state schools by 4 percent each year through 2025. That’s the pace needed to reach the national average of 39 percent of residents with a college degree.
To help meet that goal the General Assembly approved a new funding formula in 2010 that ties money to graduation rates rather than just enrollment.
Wright said that to meet Tennessee’s graduation goals, the state’s colleges and universities need to look at ways to help low-income students, first-generation students and adults who want to go back to school — groups that often face serious obstacles to completing their degrees.
Wright noted some of MTSU’s efforts in that direction, such as offering credit hours for non-academic experience to adults who can demonstrate the relevance of what they know.
But Ransom Jones, a former long-term member of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, said he is concerned that schools like MTSU could be cutting standards to graduate more people.
“I think what they are doing is trying to get students in and sometimes create programs that are easy for students to get through,” said Jones, who is president of the MTSU-supporting Rebecca and Jennings Jones Foundation. “They are not prepared enough for the high-paying kind of jobs to pay off the student loan.”