Thursday, April 16, 2009
Ammons adds context to graduation rate
In a recent interview with FAMU President James Ammons, Tallahassee Democrat Associate Editor Meredith Clark asked him to comment on a critical issue: the university’s graduation rate.
42.2 percent of FAMU’s black students graduated within six years.
Ammons explained that FAMU’s students often take longer to graduate because of the length of time required by their majors.
As the article reported: “Forty percent of FAMU students are in a science or science-based major, such as pharmacy (six years), engineering (five years), architecture (five years) or allied health, which now requires a master's degree.”
Nationwide, most college students take six years to finish a four-year baccalaureate degree. Considering that fact, it is understandable that the 40 percent of FAMU students in five-year plus programs need even more time.
However, Ammons pointed to rising college costs as the number one factor that hurts the FAMU’s graduation rate.
Most of FAMU’s students come from low-income families. When tuition and fees rise, they usually enroll in fewer courses.
"These are students who can't call home and say, 'Mom, I need $1,000 for a class,' " Ammons said. "Ninety percent of FAMU students are on financial aid."
FAMU has the highest reported student debt average in the State University System.
Many FAMU students try to avoid deep debt by working. During the 2006-2007 school year, FAMU had more students in federal work-study jobs than UCF, FAU, or UNF (which all have larger enrollments than FAMU). Large numbers of FAMU students also interrupt their education to work until they have enough money to re-enroll. Those trends all hurt the graduation rate.
Ammons has taken some big steps to help students graduate faster, including hiring a new director of retention and calling for students to be given more help in applying for financial aid.
However, the FAMU administration’s support for an up to 15 percent differential tuition increase next year could have an unintended negative affect on the graduation numbers.
Thanks to U.S. President Barack Obama’s American Opportunity Tax Credit, thousands of FAMU students will be eligible for a Pell Grant increase next year. But, if FAMU leaders dump a heavy differential tuition hike on students that eats up all the new financial aid, the problem will remain the same. The students who are working long hours and enrolling in fewer classes each semester will have to continue that pattern.
The maximum Pell Grant award increased from $3,000 in 1998 to $4,310 in 2007. But still, the new financial aid did nothing to stop FAMU’s lower division credit hour loads from dropping. Pell Grants have not kept pace with tuition hikes.
The tuition hikes that FAMU's administration is supporting will probably lead students to cut down their course loads, again. Smaller course loads will not help the graduation rate, at all.
Leave “ranking game” rhetoric out discussion on FAMU’s grad rate
Tuition price hurting FAMU students
Fee breaks could generate revenue
FAMU’s course load cliff