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Publication Date



Improve, Degree, Progress, Persistence, strategic management, plans


Executive Summary: In 1991 the United States Congress passed the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act requiring colleges and universities to disclose, among other factors, the graduation rates for all full-time entering students pursuing degrees. In keeping with the federal legislation, Washington State's legislature, in 1993, passed SHB 1580, the "time-to-degree" bill requiring the state's colleges and universities to develop plans that will shorten existing time-to-degree rates and subsequently improve both degree persistence and graduation rates. Both legislative actions guided the contents of this report. The faculty, staff, and administration at Western Washington University have been acutely aware of their students' degree progress, persistence, and graduation patterns. Studies conducted over the years by Western's Office of Institutional Research (OIR) and the Office of Institutional Assessment and Testing (OIAT) generated numerous findings concerned with those issues. To enhance further understanding of and to be able to identify solutions and remove barriers to degree progress, the University formed an Enrollment Management Group in 1991. Also in 1991, a Student Tracking System was installed to accommodate growing data and information needs. Both activities were stimulated by Western's previous assessment findings and the recommendations contained in the University's Strategic Action Plan formally adopted in February, 1992. In an effort to comprehend the factors that contributed to degree progress and graduation patterns, the OIAT conducted a series of analytic studies using alumni and former student survey findings and data concerning enrollment patterns in the majors. Overall, the findings strongly suggest that loss of transfer credits, unclear career goals, choosing a dual major, taking extra courses for personal interest, academic performance, waiting to the senior year to declare a major, and the number of credits required for a major impede degree progress in some form or another. Findings also indicated that the following factors had little or no effect on credit accumulation and time-to-degree: use or non-use of advising services, reasons why students choose a certain major field, number of hours per week spent studying, receiving financial aid or working for pay less than 20 yours per week, various value judgments or orientations to academic life at Western, and ethnic minority status. Additionally, the analysis indicates that the factors can be grouped into three cluster categories: 1) life course decisions; 2) academic choices; and 3) characteristics of the major/choice of major. Results from the analysis strongly influenced the content of Western's strategic plans and procedures to effect degree progress, persistence, and graduation rates. Other significant assessment findings, too, influenced the plans and procedures, and are presented in detail in several tables and figures. Western's time-to-degree plan lists and describes twenty-eight different procedures and activities. The procedures and activities are organized according to four categories: 1) increase information on institutional and student characteristics; 2) increase instructional integrity: remove institutional barriers; 3) increase responsiveness to student needs; and 4) increase system integrity: clarify system standards and procedures. Along with a brief description of each activity and procedure, the report includes a rationale and a timeline. A summary timeline of all procedures and activities appears at the end of the report. Some of the procedures and activities described in the University plan are already underway. Others require development, review, and approval of a number of committees and administrative offices. Each procedure and activity will be evaluated and assessed to determine its effectiveness and impact. As this report is perused and its contents considered, one overall conclusion drawn from the research is perhaps most important to keep in mind: The pattern of taking more than four years to complete a college degree has become highly stable and almost "normal", and a large number of different factors support and create that pattern. There is therefore no simple solution to the "problem". Many factors could be changed, each of which could have a small impact on average time to degree. Some might impact particular lives in a substantial way, but no single change can affect overall "efficiency" in a major way, and even a series of changes can have only modest impact. In addition, one of the most powerful influences on time-to-degree--which major field of study one chooses and how many credits it requires--raises extremely basic questions defining the training necessary to enter various fields and the nature of a liberal arts education. These questions dwarf the immediate concern for efficiency. In these cases, it is extremely difficult and in most cases unwise for a university to make any changes that might increase efficiency.




Digital object produced by Office of Survey Research, Western Washington University, and made available by University Archives, Heritage Resources, Western Libraries, Western Washington University.

Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

College students--Washington (State); College dropouts--Washington (State); Prediction of scholastic success--Washington (State); Academic achievement--Washington (State)

Title of Series

Technical and research reports (Western Washington University. Office of Institutional Assessment and Testing) ; 1994-03






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