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Grad Stats: What the Numbers Don't Tell You

By Erin Milne
On September 20, 2012


For Allynne O'Hearn, the road to a bachelor's degree has been winding.

O'Hearn began her college studies at Lyndon State College in the fall of 2008 with a major in meteorology. After her first semester, she transferred to Alfred State College in Alfred, New York, a school that had lower tuition and allowed her to save money by living off campus. She earned her associate's degree in liberal studies there in the spring of 2010 and returned to LSC the following fall with intention of studying elementary education, but she ultimately decided to stay with liberal studies and later added a second major in mathematics. She will graduate with a bachelor's degree in both subjects this December, just one semester past her anticipated graduation date.

O'Hearn is not alone. According to data reported by LSC to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 13% of full-time, first-time students who entered LSC in the fall of 2005 (the last year for which data was reported) completed their bachelor's degree within four years; 31% completed the degree within six years. Yet these numbers do not provide a full picture, says Donna Dalton, dean of academic and student affairs.

According to Dalton, the students who are used to figure these percentages are those who begin during the fall semester, who have never attended college before, and who are enrolled full-time. Students who transfer in from other schools, enter LSC during the spring semester, have part-time status, or are readmitted after withdrawal or dismissal are all left out of the data. Of 540 students who entered LSC during the 2011-2012 academic year, only 381 fell into the cohort for which the percentages are calculated.

Debra Hale, assistant academic dean, agrees that the percentages leave a lot of information out.

"Overall, our graduation rate would be better if those (other students) were included," Hale says.

Yet there remain many students who do take longer than the expected amount of time to complete their degrees, and Hale says there are a variety of reasons for this. Some students get slowed down because they test into multiple basic-skills classes, others have work or family obligations and must drop from full-time to part-time, while still others change majors or are working on double majors. The atmospheric sciences department also offers a five-year bachelor's program for students who do not test into pre-calculus.

 John Kascenska, associate academic dean, adds that many students choose to take a lighter course load, either because they feel it is best for them or because they must work, and this sometimes delays their graduation. Some majors require that courses be taken in a certain sequence, so students may get delayed if they fail a certain class and cannot take any others until they pass it. Other students get delayed as a result of having to complete an internship. 

Some students never complete their degree at LSC. Only 61% of full-time, first-time students who entered LSC in fall 2010 returned for fall 2011. According to both Dalton and Hale, many of these students come into LSC with undecided majors and then become interested in programs LSC does not offer, so they transfer to other schools.

"Just because students are not staying, that doesn't mean they're not successful. They just may take longer to be successful," Hale says.

For other students, though, leaving LSC is less of a choice. Hale says that the school does see students leave because of family crises or financial difficulties. According to Vinnie Maloney, director of admissions, approximately 53 percent of the students admitted to Lyndon each year are among the first generation of their families to attend college, and many of them come from low-income backgrounds. Maloney says LSC does not look at a student's ability to pay as a deciding factor in the admissions process, meaning that some students are admitted but then have difficulty paying their bill.

According to Bob Whittaker, dean of institutional advancement, increasing financial aid for students is one of LSC's top priorities: last year's Second Century Campaign raised over $1 million dollars for endowed scholarships as well as another $1 million in planned gifts, and many other fundraising efforts are currently underway.   

LSC has also implemented an "early alert" system to help struggling students. If a professor has an academic concern about a student, he or she can make a report. The information will be sent to Academic Support, First Year Experience, and Jonathan Davis, associate dean of student affairs, all of whom will then help the student create a plan for success. The Advising Resource Center, which houses First Year Experience, Career Services, and the office of Kathleen Gold, director of advising resources, also works with students who have concerns but are not sure who to talk to.

Hale says many students are hesitant to ask for help, and she hopes these resources will help them overcome that apprehension.

"We are not here to help you fail. We are here to help you succeed. It's our main mission," Hale says. "But that being said, students have to help themselves, too."

O'Hearn says LSC was very helpful to her throughout her college experience, including helping her transfer her credits from Alfred. For her, making all the changes was well worth it.

"I wanted to go with what would make me happy and what would give me the most opportunity for a good job," O'Hearn says.  

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