LINCOLN–Colleges and universities across the state can point to notable success in increased enrollment and accomplishments of graduates, but a low four-year graduation rate is cause for concern, the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee was told earlier this month.
Lawmakers heard testimony from officials representing universities, colleges and other institutions throughout the state of Nebraska on Legislative Resolution 564, an interim study introduced by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln. The hearing primarily focused on the state of post-secondary education in Nebraska.
Representatives from institutions across the state painted a picture of growing success for universities and colleges across the state, emphasizing increased enrollment and diversity, as well as the success of their graduates in the workforce.
Nebraska Wesleyan President Fred Ohles gave a glowing review of his own institution, citing above average graduation rates and better than average salaries of Wesleyan graduates.
Ohles also raised a point that came up throughout the day. Because of the way some students were counted, particularly transfer students, some schools could appear not to be serving students well.
When a student transfers, whether it be from a community college to a four-year university, or from one four-year university to another, that student is not counted in graduation statistics for either institution.
“If a student spent two years here, and then transferred to Harvard,” Ohles said, “it would be counted as a failure on our part.”
Other universities, such as the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska State College System also reported positive figures in the testimony. Many schools throughout the state reported having lower student debt than the national average, which is about $37,000.
Jodi Kupper of the Nebraska State College System said the state colleges–Chadron State, Peru State and Wayne State–have good graduation rates and high minority enrollment.
However, one statistic that caught the committee’s attention was that only 32 percent of students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate in four years. The figure was even lower for the campuses at Kearney and Omaha.
Chris Kabourek, the assistant vice president for budget and planning for the University of Nebraska, said the Board of Regents is aiming for much higher four-year graduation rates.
Committee chair Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids pressed the issue of the low graduation rates, pointing out her experience of graduating within four years at UNL.
“There are two main factors that affect graduation rates,” Kabourek said. “And those are family income and the parents’ education level.”
Kabourek said the Board of Regents is trying to help future students and increase the four-year graduation rate through social media campaigns and also by implementing a 120 credit hour graduation requirement for all students, whereas in the past certain majors required more hours.
Bruce Nims, the co-founder of Joseph’s College, a private cosmetology school with campuses throughout Nebraska, also testified. Nims said in his testimony how the rules for public, nonprofit schools are significantly different from private, for-profit institutions like Joseph’s College.
Despite the deck being stacked against his school, according to Nims, Joseph’s College has a very high graduation rate, and students often leave with little debt. This is also partially due Nebraska being a very lucrative place for cosmetologists, as the state has some of the highest salaries nationwide for hairdressers, according to Nims.
Other testimonies came from other institutions, such as community colleges, the Nebraska Education Association and Nebraska Appleseed.