The Journal Gazette
Sunday, July 11, 2021 1:00 am

PFW sees on-time grad rate slip in '20

Annual higher ed report: Increase seen statewide

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Purdue University Fort Wayne's progress with on-time graduation rates took a step backward as statewide rates improved.

The regional campus graduated 22.4% of its students on time in 2020, down from almost 26% the previous year, according to a June report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

The statewide rate increased by 2 percentage points to 44.4%.

“It is encouraging to see the class of 2020 finished strong, despite the turmoil that was going on last spring,” Teresa Lubbers, Indiana commissioner for higher education, said in a statement.

The 2021 College Completion Report, which studies the state's public institutions, reasoned rates generally stayed on track because students were already close to graduating when the pandemic disruptions began in March 2020.

Rates for the class of 2021, which haven't been calculated, could provide more clues about what, if any, role the pandemic played in students finishing college, the report said.

“Last year, we witnessed just how much security having a degree can bring,” Lubbers said. “At the height of disruption in April 2020, the unemployment rate for Hoosiers with a bachelor's degree was 5%, while the rate for those with a high school diploma or equivalency was 13.6%. It is even more critical that students who are currently enrolled persist and finish their credentials.”

Indiana University Bloomington and Purdue University West Lafayette have the highest on-time completion rates – at 71.8% and 62.7%, respectively. Their satellite campuses collectively graduated about 30% of students on time.

The commission defines on-time completion as graduation within two years for an associate degree and four years for a bachelor's degree.

Charlee Beasor of the Commission for Higher Education cautions people from comparing regional campuses, such as Purdue Fort Wayne, with a main campus.

Admissions standards and out-of-state enrollment, which is higher at main campuses, are factors that differentiate the campuses, said Beasor, associate commissioner for communications and outreach.

Additionally, she said, satellite campuses enroll more underrepresented minorities and low-income students.

“Students at regional campuses may have greater barriers to completion than those who attend main campuses,” Beasor said in an email.

Purdue Fort Wayne students work more and have more family responsibilities than students at many other institutions, said Carl Drummond, vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Indiana University in Bloomington and Purdue University in West Lafayette “are extremely selective in their admissions criteria and as such have significantly higher completion rates,”  Drummond said by email.

The academic, economic and personal challenges students faced from the pandemic played a “major role” in Purdue Fort Wayne's slight decline in on-time graduations, Drummond said.

He also cited the 2018 split with Indiana University.

“The transition from IPFW to PFW was completed with the final teach out of students pursuing Indiana University degrees,” Drummond said. “Over the past several years, we saw a small but significant surge in IU graduates as they pressed to finish their studies.”

Although Purdue Fort Wayne's on-time completion rate dipped to 22.4%, it didn't completely undo recent gains. It was as low as 13% in 2015.

The university also saw its extended-time completion rate improve from 50.4% in 2019 to 54.5% in 2020. The extended timeframe is defined as graduating within six years of beginning any degree program.

To address student success, Drummond said, the university has restructured the student advising process. It includes providing more intense and intentional advisement to students during their first year of college.

Purdue Fort Wayne also launched a system to address challenges associated with critical points during a student's academic career that could potentially delay or derail graduation, Drummond said.

“How long a student takes to complete a degree is important, but less important to the individual, and to the regional economy, than is their ultimate successful graduation,” he said.

College completion rates

About 44% of Indiana public college students graduated on time in 2020, which the Indiana Commission for Higher Education defines as within two years for an associate degree and four years for a bachelor's degree. About 64% finished their degree within six years – what the agency describes as graduating in an extended time frame.

School On time Later
Ball State 49.7% 76.4%
Indiana State 33.0% 52.8%
IU Bloomington 71.8% 86.1%
Purdue West Lafayette 62.7% 87.7%
Purdue Fort Wayne 22.4% 54.5%
Ivy Tech 14.2% 37.2%
Ivy Tech Fort Wayne 10.2% 36.7%
U. of Southern Indiana 37.6% 65.4%
Vincennes University 33.0% 38.7%

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