Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Commencement is an opportunity for students to celebrate their accomplishments. This year, it also is a chance for UNC Charlotte to join #CountAllStudents, a coordinated campaign to share stories of 2016 graduates who transferred from other institutions or who attended part-time. It is these undergraduates who are missing from the federal graduation rate, often used to rank the effectiveness of colleges and universities.

Five members of UNC Charlotte’s Class of 2016 are featured on the Student Achievement Measure website (SAM) along with graduates of other institutions across the United States. The website is urging the federal government to update the way it records graduation rates for colleges and universities, which only reports figures for students who begin college full-time and do not transfer.

The University’s Office of Adult Students and Evening Services (OASES) helped identify the five students featured on the SAM website. They are Shannon Bodsford, an applied anthropology and Spanish major who began studies as a part-time student (she re-enrolled through OASES’s award-winning 49er Finish Program); Thomas Frokedal, who is completing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology, transferred to the University as a junior through a community college 2 + 2 program; accounting major Denise Hatcher also transferred and enrolled at UNC Charlotte part-time in 2001 (returned through the 49er Finish Program); Aaron Lyles, a marketing analytics major, also transferred to the University after two years at a community college; as did social work major Judith Steverson, who is completing a bachelor’s degree after earning two associate degrees first.

“UNC Charlotte, North Carolina’s urban research institution, is proud to be the UNC system’s number one choice for transfer students, and the University is committed to providing all students the opportunity to realize their educational goals,” said Provost Joan Lorden, vice chancellor of academic affairs. “When a UNC Charlotte student graduates, he or she has achieved a significant milestone. Whether students began at another institution or were enrolled part time along the way, these realities do not diminish their degrees. We understand that circumstances are much different for students today than nearly three decades ago, when the federal graduation rate methodology was established.”

According to Student Achievement Measure, one-third of American college students are 25 years of age or older, 20 percent are employed full time while enrolled and one in four has children.

SAM is a collaborative effort of the American Association of Community Colleges, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, American Council of Education, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Research also indicates that more than half of U.S. bachelor’s degree recipients attend more than one institution and two-thirds of community college students are enrolled part time. Yet, these students are not counted in the widely reported and cited federal graduation rate, established in 1990.

The Division of Academic Affairs, through OASES, provides a number of services to help transfer students and adult learners succeed.

OASES has a successful mentoring program, and office personnel work with two national honor societies exclusively for adult students, Pinnacle and Alpha Sigma Lambda, to garner recognition for nontraditional students’ academic scholarship and commitment to community service. The successful 49er Finish Program encourages students to return to complete degrees; to date, 695 participants have graduated as a result of the program.

Also, OASES has developed the course UCOL 1010: College Transition for Transfers to assist with the “intellectual and social transition to UNC Charlotte for transfer students by increasing the involvement of students in the intellectual life of campus.”

In fall 2009, UNC Charlotte enrolled approximately 1,800 full-time transfer students, and 64 percent had graduated within six years. This compares to a 52 percent graduation rate for first-time full-time students who started in fall 2009 (the figure used by the federal government).

“UNC Charlotte’s goal is for all enrolled students to progress toward degree completion, and we continue to seek ways to improve our graduation rates,” said Lorden. “The federal graduation rate does not fully capture the tremendous success that so many of our transfer and part-time students have achieved.”