Taking their time

Senior Ryan Flaherty, a business and criminology major, has been a USF student for seven years.

“I have always been a person that has been in a rush to finish school,” he said. “My rush is just taking me a little longer than I thought.”Flaherty is among many students who have been in college longer than they expected. He has been working full time in addition to school and has only been able to complete two or three classes each semester.

“I found the financial burden of school to be larger than I expected,” he said. “I have approximately taken between four and five classes, but I have only finished about two to three each semester. I am optimistic every semester that I will finish all the classes, but later on I have learned to take less of a load.”

Flaherty will graduate in May 2006, and he hopes to be working for a large corporation or a government agency after college.Flaherty is not the only one taking longer than four years to graduate. According to Glen

Besterfield, interim director of Tracking Academic Progress of Students (TAPS), USF’s four-year graduation rate is somewhere around 25 percent.

“It is not where we wanted to be,” he said. “We think it should easily be in 30 percent, and we are trying to implement some things that would increase that, but we are not going to see results of that for three to five years from now.”

According to the USF Retention Reporting System, approximately 17 percent of first-time-in-college students graduated after four years when enrolled in 1998. After five years, the total increased to 35 percent.

“We don’t know what our current rates are going to be in the next several years,” Besterfield said. “It is not as good.”

The longest it has taken someone to graduate from the time they were admitted as a first-time-in-college student is 12 years. The minimum is one year.TAPS has been implemented at the undergraduate studies Web site to increase graduation rates. The program includes curricula for every major and gives students a critical path to follow every semester to graduate on time.

“We developed it semester by semester so the students know exactly what they should be taking each semester,” Besterfield said.

TAPS hired seven new advisers in the past six months to work with freshmen, ensuring they are taking the right courses in the right sequence.

“It is very important that the students know what major they want to be, follow that track and don’t take classes that aren’t applicable to their degree,” Besterfield said.

Some of the math courses on campus have been rearranged as well.

“One thing that we have really seen holding back our students is that they are not able to get through some of the lower level math courses,” Besterfield said. “We are trying some things in the math courses by rearranging the way we teach those courses to help improve the passing rate. Instead of a lecture environment, it is actually a recitation session with a homework session that goes along with the course.”

Even though changes have been made for students to proceed through in a timely manner, many students stay around longer for financial or personal reasons.

“I think a lot of our graduation rate depends on the students,” Besterfield said. “I don’t think they realize how important it is to finish a semester early or a year early. It is a phenomenal amount of money we are taking about, staying in school an extra year, taking $10,000 in loans and working a part-time job versus graduating early making $35,000.” Besterfield encourages students to make the correct choices by balancing their social life and academic life and attempting to take full loads each semester.

“A good student coming in here with some credits can graduate in two and half years if they want to,” he said. “The potential is there for some students who come in with a lot of credit. If students are very persistent – they go to summer school, they take full loads – there is no reason why they cannot graduate in three years.”

However, many students might not have the opportunity to pursue their degree as full-time students. Debbie Hayward, associate director of the Data Administration & Reporting Team (DART), said she thinks the amount of part-time students enrolled at USF affect the retention rate.

“Since we are a large metropolitan university, a lot of people come to go part time because it is convenient and easy for them,” she said. “Because we have a lot of part-time students, it takes our students longer to graduate than students at a more traditional university like Harvard, where everybody goes full-time.”