Time is the enemy when it comes to getting more college students to graduate, the Montana Board of Regents heard Friday.

The longer students spend in college, the less likely they are to graduate, Bruce Vandal, vice president of Complete College America, told the regents, meeting in Helena.

“Life gets in the way,” Vandal said, when students are trying to juggle jobs and families with finishing college.

The regents agreed informally to join with 32 other states that are already members of Complete College America. The nonprofit alliance formed in 2009, seeking to achieve President Barack Obama’s goal of raising the U.S. education level to the best in the world. The alliance is working to increase the number of Americans with post-high school degrees and certificates from about 40 to 60 percent.

Joining the alliance costs Montana nothing and gives access to experts and data about what’s working in other states. It is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was created, ironically, by a highly successful Harvard dropout.

The Montana Board of Regents had already voted to OK a deal with the governor and key lawmakers, that if the 2013 Legislature approves millions for inflation and employee raises for the next two years, the regents promise to freeze student tuition and to try “performance funding.” That would financially reward campuses that succeed in getting more students to graduate and speeding up time to graduate, now typically six years.

Students are less likely to graduate, Vandal said, if they attend college part time, if they are poor, and if they have to take remedial math or writing classes. Especially for older-than-traditional-age students, graduation rates suffer if their college class schedules change from semester to semester, making it difficult to fit with work and family schedules.

Colleges can help working students by creating more predictable morning or afternoon blocks of classes, he said. Another idea is to get students taking remedial classes and “gateway” college classes that count toward graduation at the same time.

Hawaii saw improvements when it created and marketed a financial incentive called “15 to finish,” encouraging students to take more than 12 credits per semester so they can graduate faster, Vandal said.

MSU President Waded Cruzado said she has been promoting a similar idea, “Freshman 15,” telling students and parents that they can save hundreds of dollars each semester by taking 15 credits, which costs no more than 12. The average class load now is 12.4 credits.

Cruzado said raising graduation rates doesn’t mean lowering standards or hurting the quality of education. It can be achieved by changing curriculum and schedules, she said, for example, by offering key classes more often than once every two years.

Adam Cook, a Montana Tech student senator, told the regents they should create incentives for students, not just colleges, to graduate faster.

“College life is better than real life,” Cook said, explaining how many students feel. “What’s the hurry?”

In other actions affecting MSU, the regents on Friday approved:

  • Changing the name of MSU’s College of Business to the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and naming the proposed business college building Jabs Hall. Jabs, an MSU alum and Colorado furniture chain owner, gave $25 million to MSU.
  • Spending up to $1 million to pave dirt and gravel parking lots around the Bobcat stadium used for tailgating. The money would come not from state or student funds but from donations, parking revenues and in-kind contributions.
  • Spending up to $1.6 million to renovate the Strand Union Building ballrooms, to be paid for with auxiliaries funds and student fees.
  • Paying head Bobcat football coach Rob Ash $174,538, a 10 percent raise, as part of his new contract.
  • Creating a new health information coding certificate for MSU's two-year Gallatin College and a pre-veterinary medical certificate at MSU.
  • Leasing office space at the Innovation Campus (Tech Park) for MSU’s information technology staff for about $90,000 a year.
  • Upgrading the North Hedges dorm elevator for $275,000.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.


This story was changed on March 11, 2013, to correct the fact that the pre-veterinary medical certificate program approved by the Board of Regents is a new MSU program, not a Gallatin College program as originally reported. 



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