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Release: Immediate

UI students taking advantage of the 'Four-Year Plan'

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- At a time when college tuition and expenses nationally seem to be on a never-ending spiral, the University of Iowa's new emphasis on helping students graduate in four years is striking a chord with first-year students.

More than 50 percent of freshmen students signed up for the UI's "Four-Year Graduation Plan" this summer, one of the highest rates in the program's three years.

The plan, which comes in the form of a written contract, pledges interested students and the UI to work together to make sure that students stay on track to graduate in four years.

John Folkins, associate provost, says the plan tries to spell out clearly an ongoing commitment of the UI.

"We really are committed to giving students the opportunities and the flexibility to plan their educational careers in ways that most benefit individual students," Folkins says. "For some, that means graduating in four years and we are committed to helping them achieve that goal.

"The Four-Year Graduation Plan puts that commitment in writing for students, their parents and for the university," he says.

Begun in the summer of 1995, the four-year plan was adopted in response to a request by the state Board of Regents to more fully explain to students and parents what students need to do to graduate on time.

Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa have also adopted four-year plans. Universities in Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and elsewhere have beefed up their commitment to four-year graduation, as well.

The contract lists several requirements that students must meet, such as entering the UI as freshmen, choosing a qualifying major, meeting regularly with advisors, completing one-fourth of the necessary credits to graduate in each of their four years, and others.

In exchange, if a student meets all the requirements and still fails to graduate in four years, the UI will agree to waive certain required classes (if they are not offered when needed), make substitutions for required classes if possible or waive tuition for classes the student must take during a fifth year.

Students are asked if they want to sign up during summer orientation before their first fall semester.

In the summer of 1997, a total of 1,852 students signed up, about 53.1 percent of the 3,489 first-year students who are eligible. In 1995, a total of 1,895 freshmen students signed up, about 53 percent of the 3,578 eligible students; in 1996, a total of 1,468 students out of 3,535 freshmen signed up, about 42 percent.

Figures for the first two completed years also show that students who have stayed on the plan tend to have slightly higher grade points: a 2.95 GPA for four-year plan students, compared to 2.71 for non-four-year plan students in 1995; a 2.86 GPA for four-year plan students, compared to a 2.58 GPA for non-four-year plan students in 1996.

Students on the plan are also saving money. In tuition alone, in-state students save more than $2,500 and out-of-state students save more than $9,000 by finishing in four, rather than five, years.

Folkins points out that students who are on track take advantage of a built-in tuition discount. According to UI's tuition policy, undergraduates are charged for each semester hour they take up to 12 semester hours. A student who takes 15 hours, instead of 12 hours, not only will graduate in four years, but gets the equivalent of a year's tuition for free, Folkins says.

"We've long tried to make the point that students who take the initiative to be a wise consumer of their education will graduate on time and have access to a world-class education," he says.

Folkins says the plan requires a lot of responsibility on the part of students to meet the demands of graduating in four years, and to plan accordingly. But he says the UI has worked hard to make sure that needed classes will be available, alleviating one of the main concerns of students and parents during tight budget times of the late 1980s.

Folkins says UI officials recognize that the four-year plan is not for every student. Some majors, such as engineering and secondary-school education majors, require too many course hours and out-of-class experiences to make graduating in four years practical for everyone.

Many students also complete semesters studying in other countries or undertake semester-long internships, or take advantage of other enrichment opportunities to enhance their education and improve their job prospects.

Those are excellent experiences for students to have, but usually bump students off the four-year track, Folkins says.

"We don't want the four-year plan to interfere with students' opportunities to get the best education they can," Folkins says. "For many students, in many instances, there is nothing wrong with a five-year plan."