EDITORS: Please consider using the following essay by University of Iowa
President Mary Sue Coleman on the issue of getting students through college
in four years. If you want to use the essay and would like a photo of President
Coleman, call University Relations, 319-335-0557.
Speeding Up the College Years
By Mary Sue Coleman
President, University of Iowa
Tax breaks, easier loans, part-time jobs - they all help, but one of the
best ways for students to manage college costs is to finish in four years
That's why we introduced a Four-Year Plan at The University of Iowa in 1995.
It's a contract that spells out exactly what students have to do each semester
to complete their programs, and guarantees that the university will provide
the needed courses on schedule.
Just over half the 1995 entering class signed up. These students, who will
be juniors this fall, are half a credit ahead of their non-plan counterparts
in accumulating semester hours, and their grade point is almost a quarter-point
higher. Right on their heels are the 1996 plan participants, who are also
taking heavier course loads, earning higher grades, progressing faster than
their non-plan counterparts - and saving the cost of that fifth year of tuition.
And we expect the same results from the 53 percent of our 1997 entering freshmen
who joined the program at summer orientation.
We can't be sure that all this progress is due to the plan itself. The participants
are a self-selected, highly-motivated group who would have worked just as
hard without a formal contract. But a clearly-laid-out roadmap provides excellent
guidance, and just having it in circulation benefits all undergraduates. It
strengthens and deepens their involvement in the advising process. It helps
motivate them to focus on long-term course planning, rather than simply building
the next semester around convenient hours. Best of all, it has spurred departments
and colleges to see that each semester's course offerings help students finish
There is no magic, though, in putting everyone on a four-year timetable.
College is a priceless opportunity for learning, self-discovery, and exploration.
No student should be shackled to a commitment that precludes internships,
study-abroad opportunities, or switching to a more desirable major. Even economically,
shorter isn't always better: fifth-year engineering students with internship
experience, for example, are more competitive in the job market.
But for those who commit themselves to stay on track with 15- or 16-hour
course loads, there should be no barrier to earning a four-year degree at
Iowa. We are working hard to improve our overall four-year graduation rate,
which has hovered around 30 percent for many decades, as is typical of schools
with admission standards similar to ours. Even though these figures don't
reflect four-year graduates who transfer in or out, or those who take a summer
or a semester longer to finish, they are still disappointing.
Our current four-year rate is 32.6 percent, about the median for public Big
Ten schools. But that's not good enough.
By the year 2001, we expect 40 percent of our students to finish in four
years. That's a target we have set for ourselves, and we are determined to
meet it, along with the other targets that we submitted to the Board of Regents
last May. The people of Iowa can count on it!