POINT OF VIEW On-time graduation standard off mark for today’s students

Students at Florida’s public colleges and universities are taking too long to graduate, and state lawmakers have a fix for that — The Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017.

The bill (SB 2) would change state performance standards and use funding to penalize public colleges and universities whose students take longer than the traditional time frame — typically two or four years depending on the school and degree — to complete their academic courses and graduate.

The bill tries to address a problem many colleges and universities across the country continue to face. In Florida, the so-called “on-time” completion rates in our public colleges and universities aren’t good, and too many students who start their post-secondary education drop out and fail to finish.

Don’t get me wrong. There are several good provisions in the bill, and I’m all for improvements to on-time graduation. In an ideal world, two and four years should be sufficient to obtain an associate’s and undergraduate degree respectively. Unfortunately, today’s students don’t live in an ideal world.

Today’s college student is older than in previous generations. They also juggle other responsibilities, like jobs and family obligations. And the cost of a college education continues to be a challenge as household income remains a key factor in determining if a young person stays enrolled and graduates.

A 2014 report by the College Board clearly shows that a majority of full-time students attending four-year institutions don’t graduate on time. The study, which used federal data collected between 2009 and 2012, found on-time graduate rates from 60 percent at the University of Florida to 12 percent at Florida A&M University.

On-time graduation rates weren’t much better among Florida’s state colleges. On average, about 35 percent of the students in state colleges finish their programs on time. While the Florida average exceeds the national average, the statistic isn’t much of a consolation prize for the nation’s third largest state.

The numbers aren’t good, but more understandable when you add in the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants, the federal government’s financial assistance for students in need. For example, Florida A&M and Florida International University have low “on-time“ completion rates but primarily serve minority students who rely on federal Pell Grants and other forms of financial assistance. A similar co-relation between graduation rates and financial aid students exist on other Florida campuses.

Unfortunately, grants — particularly scholarships based on financial need — haven’t kept pace with demand. Neither have cumbersome class scheduling that forces students to delay completing their academic requirements.

Imposing an arbitrary graduation performance standard won’t help our students or the colleges and universities they attend. What’s needed is greater flexibility in course scheduling, more “need-based” financial aid and new incentives to help our institutions of higher learning help their students.


Editor’s note: Perry Thurston represents District 33 in the Florida Senate, and is chairman of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Letters: To protect our kids, put a trained cop on every campus

Put a trained cop on every campus Over the past decade and more, we have heard and watched the news reporting how our young adults and children have become the easy targets at schools. Protecting our children should be our main priority. Unfortunately, I believe, no matter what actions we take, it will not stop the mentally ill or the religious fanatic...
Editorial cartoon
Editorial cartoon

POINT OF VIEW: Advocates for change must remain vigilant

Have you ever seen a ripple in the tide? The water, seemingly calm, is greeted by some odd disturbance, causing it to shift and move. The waves always move outward from the original disturbance and into the environment, affecting everything around it. Imagine yourself at the center of that ripple. As you go through life, you’re greeted by new...
Palm Beach Post editorial cartoon Saturday, March 17
Palm Beach Post editorial cartoon Saturday, March 17

Letters: Sorry, mayor; reducing parking won’t help downtown

Reducing parking won’t help downtown I read with great interest Mayor Muoio’s article expounding on the great success of the Flagler Shore project. (“Flagler Shore a good step in improving space for all,” March 2) As a West Palm Beach business professional, I have yet to meet anyone who thinks this is a great idea. As far as...
More Stories