Colorado State University President Frank Challenges Campus to Buck National Trend in Graduation Rates

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While applauding Colorado State University’s progress in promoting student success and retention, CSU President Tony Frank on Thursday also called on the university to do more to buck national trends that show that nearly half of all students who start college in the United States leave without earning a bachelor’s degree.

In his annual Fall Address to the university, Frank noted that CSU has reached an historic high in the number of students continuing from their freshman to sophomore year. CSU is also the best among its university peers in closing the graduation gap between white students and students of color. But improving graduation rates overall will continue to be a strong focus for Colorado State.

“CSU’s numbers are significantly better than the numbers reported by many American colleges and universities, but that shouldn’t satisfy us,” Frank said.

He cited a recent national study that revealed that students who started college but didn’t graduate cost the nation $4.5 billion in lost income and taxes. (The study, “The High Cost of Low Graduation Rates,” was conducted by the American Institutes for Research.) Colorado taxpayers – in a single year – spent $2.45 million on tuition subsidies for students who dropped out, he added.

“We’re in our third consecutive year of record enrollment with constantly improving academic qualifications,” he said. “We also know how to welcome students and get them off to a good start in their living communities, and we have highly effective educators. So with those ingredients, we should be able to graduate almost every student. But we don’t.”

CSU’s overall six-year graduation rate of 64 percent – while better than most schools in the state and comparable to most other national research universities – is “not up to the CSU standard of excellence,” Frank said.

Colorado State has made progress in improving graduation rates in recent years thanks to a focused commitment on student success, retention and providing a high-quality undergraduate experience, he said. These efforts have yielded notable gains, he said, and need to be continued and expanded.

“We have the raw materials we need to be successful – qualified students, committed educators,” he said. “And there is no aspect of our mission that is more important than this one: We exist to educate and graduate our students.”

Noting that in nine years the university will celebrate its 150th birthday, Frank called on faculty and staff to look ahead and determine what the university will have accomplished in the intervening years. He urged the campus community to set a goal of achieving an 80 percent six-year graduation rate – and a 60 percent four-year graduation rate – and aim to get there in the next five years.

“As we look toward the future, as we seek to build a truly great American university, and as we continue to argue for the importance of public higher education, we simply must do better.”

In his speech, Frank also highlighted the university’s successes of the past year:

• Colorado State once again ranked in the top tier of American colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report. The magazine even singled CSU out this year – along with Brown, Duke, Harvard, and Cornell – as one of a handful of schools that have done an outstanding job of infusing writing across the curriculum.

• Despite the down economy, CSU grew its annual research spending nearly 10 percent last year – to more than $330 million – a record high and the fourth year in a row that expenditures topped $300 million.

• The Campaign for Colorado State University saw a 47 percent increase in private gift fundraising last year, bucking the national trend for the second consecutive year. To date, the campaign has funded 418 new scholarships and 14 new faculty positions.

• CSU remained the school of choice in Colorado, enrolling more Colorado high-school graduates than any other campus in the state. This year’s freshman class is the largest, the most diverse, and the most qualified in CSU history based on test scores and grade point averages.

Frank also singled out a number of faculty members who received honors and launched major research partnerships this year. “In every corner of this university, every day, professors are transforming our world and the lives of our students through their work,” he said.