March 3, 2016

Graduation numbers mislead students

Student Opinion

By Christopher Acree–

 

While residency issues compelled her to pick U of L over other schools in the state, senior Elizabeth Hurd moved here from Oklahoma, and she did her research.

“I looked at (U of L’s) retention and graduation rates, which really aren’t too good,” Hurd said. “It surprised me until I started going to school here, and then I understood.” What is it that she exactly understood? Statistics recently released by President James Ramsey’s office may provide insight.

U of L’s six-year graduation rate was 52.9 percent for the most recent academic year. This was a decrease of .7 percent from last year—a full percent less than the university’s stated goal for the year and the lowest percentage in three years.

The number of bachelor degrees either awarded or applied for this academic year has decreased dramatically—roughly 1,000 down from last year and over 1,700 below our goal. This number is bound to increase as more people apply throughout the semester, so whether or not the school’s target number of degrees will be hit is unknown.

The retention rate—first-years who stay on for their second year—is also down to 79.4 percent, still one of the highest rates in over a decade but down from last year and below U of L’s goal.

These numbers may seem like statistical gobbledygook to some students, but others, particularly prospective Cardinals, are taking notice. While these decreases are in increments around a percentage point, there are even more reductions for a school that continually finds itself lagging behind other institutions. Forbes has us ranked 503, behind schools like Centre College, UK and Bellarmine. US News and World Report ranks us 168, below Kentucky schools like Murray State and WKU.

While the men’s basketball team came agonizingly close to winning the ACC regular season title this year, most of the other schools in the conference are dunking all over us in just about every academic indicator. And much like this year in basketball, in academics there is no postseason.

None of this is going unnoticed by the administration. One of the ways Ramsey and company are combatting these decreases is deceptively simple, and one might say genius: reporting higher numbers from previous years instead of the lower, more recent numbers.

According to Insider Louisville, Ramsey flaunted academic numbers that ended with the summer 2014 semester in a January speech to the Rotary Club of Louisville, right after his office had reported the lower, up-to-date numbers to the Board of Trustees. When asked why they reported the older and better numbers, as opposed to the newer and worse ones, a university spokesman said that the newer numbers weren’t “officially reported,” so using the older ones was cool. I should try that line on my professors.

The news on the academic front isn’t all glum. U of L is tied for 33 in the nation in Fulbrights, along with Stanford and the University of Washington, along with earning a spot on Fulbright’s “Top Producers” list. This brings our total Fulbright Scholarships awarded since 2003 to a whopping 89—more than all other Kentucky schools combined.

U of L has also reported receiving non-athletic philanthropic donations at a much faster rate than last year, even if the number of alumni donors are down. There’s always the over $1 billion foundation endowment, which will be nice for offsetting some Bevin budget cuts and paying yourself for doing a real bang-up job heading up a leading university.

So all that money should translate into more freshmen and happier students, right? “I’ve actually told two of my friends who were looking at U of L not to go here,” Hurd said. “This school, they’ll tell you the stuff you need to do but they don’t really care one way or the other if you do it or not. They just want their money. I don’t think this school really cares about their students.”

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