Sunday, May 13, 2012

Graduation 2012 -- a big year for the college

The Unity College 2012 Commencement Ceremony was held yesterday. This was a very large graduating class, just over 140 students, our largest ever. Although the number walking across the stage today, would have included a few December 2011 grads, students on the "five-year plan," and some transfers, this large number of graduates still represents a very high level of student success for the entering class four years ago.

That would have been the Fall Semester of 2008 when these students matriculated to Unity College. According to the college's records, there 194 students in that entering cohort. If you assume about 20 or 30 of yesterday's 140 were either transfers or December grads, that's still over a fifty percent graduation rate.

Fifty percent is a very high graduation rate for any institution of higher education. Most have rates down in the forties or thirties.

The low rates generally happen because students flunk or drop out in very high numbers, or move on to other colleges. Mostly, life happens and students decide to do something else, like get married or take a job. The key is "retention", by which we generally mean that students survive their first year of college and stay at the same college until their second year. Students that make it to their second year will generally survive until graduation.

Unity College has had for several years now a very high first to second year retention rate of over seventy percent, and this is now beginning to affect the graduation rate, as it naturally would. Yesterday's graduation occurred precisely three years after the 2008 cohort registered a previously unheard-of seventy-five percent retention rate. Hence my estimated fifty percent graduation rate.

That number seems rather optimistic, so I'm not going to bank on it until the "official" numbers from the Registrar's Office come out later this summer, but at first blush it seems that the number will be rather good. Of course, this represents an awful lot of hard work from students, faculty and staff. I'd like to think it also represents our efforts in curriculum improvement in the mid-part of the 2000s, when the faculty of Unity College strove to bring the degree majors more in line with the liberal arts and sciences standard by reducing specialized classes and emphasizing instead electives, general education, and student choice. In particular, this class of 2008 would have benefited from a mid-decadal curriculum improvement drive we called "40-40-40," which aimed to reduce some of our previously very specialized degree programs, with as many as sixty or seventy or even eighty credits in the major, and a very high resultant drop-out rate, to programs more in keeping with the liberal arts standard, and forty credits in each of general education, the degree major itself, and free electives. The 40-40-40 program is ancient college history right now, but my ancient faculty perspective remembers that the cohort of 2008 would have been only the second or third cohort to experience the new curriculum. We also made a lot of efforts to add value in the form of improved programming, field trips and other experiential pedagogy, and the like. The list of attempted improvements big and small is too numerous to mention here.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that, in perspective, all that work seems to have paid off!

Among the "fifty-percenters" were several sterling students that I knew very well. Above, graduate and recent student in PS 3003 Energy and Energy Efficiency, Kristie Smith shows off her solar-powered mortarboard, while Student Government President  and recent student in Economics of Resource Conservation and Sustainability Amy Kennedy leads the column of graduates in the march to the stage, and gives her presidential address.

As Faculty Moderator of Unity College, I was on stage and got to shake the hand of every graduate. I'm pleased to say I knew nearly of their names, having had most in my classes at one time or another. Nine were my own advisees.

Congratulations to all the 2012 graduates, good luck with the job hunt, and have a great summer!

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