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Ask Your President

In each issue, an undergrad chosen at random gets to pose a question to President Tripathi

Is the graduation rate the number you would like to see? What can be done to increase it?

President Tripathi and Nicole Ciesielski

President Tripathi and Billy Climaco

That’s a great question, Billy, and one often on my mind. You’ve touched on a critical topic in the national conversation about student learning outcomes and higher education success.

Graduation rates are often one of the first statistics students, families and institutional peers look to as an index of a college’s quality and commitment to its students. Graduation rates are also a significant factor in total student debt, so the more we can do to help our students graduate in a timely way, the less student loan debt they incur, and the more quickly they are able to enter the job market.

I am happy to say that UB’s graduation rates are far ahead of the national curve. Fifty-two percent of our students graduate within four years of entering—substantially more than the U.S. public institution average of 32 percent. Our six-year graduation rate is 72 percent, also well above the U.S. public institution average of 57 percent. This year, Kiplinger’s ranked UB No. 3 nationwide among top U.S. colleges graduating students with the lowest debt.

This is no coincidence. We’ve worked hard at fostering the educational environment that enables our students to attain their ambitious academic goals, and we are building even further on this success.

You might know that in 2012 we launched a program called Finish in 4, through which students work closely with advisers to develop a four-year roadmap toward graduation. This is a two-way commitment: Participating students pledge to stay on track academically, and the university ensures that students have access to the courses, resources and academic guidance they need to graduate on time. As part of this commitment, we’ve added hundreds of course sections and created thousands more seats in the highest-demand areas. The first cohort won’t graduate until 2016, so it’s too early to gauge graduation rates, but in the program’s first two years, participating students already show a measurable increase in credit hours completed, GPA, academic standing and retention—all key contributing factors to student success.

So, yes, graduation rates are a key measure of student success. But they are really part of a larger story about educational attainment. As we think about continually improving our graduation rates, I think it’s vital to focus on the student experience itself—what happens in those critical years in between entering and exiting college. The aim of higher education isn’t simply to graduate more students more quickly. It is to prepare thoughtful, knowledgeable individuals who are prepared to lead, innovate and contribute meaningfully to the world around them. That’s really the essence of our academic mission at UB.

Granted, there’s no ready statistic for measuring success by this definition. But I believe our alumni are the best testament to our commitment to preparing global leaders for the 21st century. Our graduates around the world are making this difference every day, in every conceivable field, through their ideas, insights and contributions. To my mind, there is no better measure of educational quality and success.

About our student, Billy Climaco

Climaco, a junior from Port Washington, N.Y., says he’s living the American dream as a first-generation college student whose parents emigrated from El Salvador. Though he struggled academically after transferring to UB with an associate’s degree, he has rallied to substantially improve his GPA and hopes to major in marketing with a minor in communication. Tripathi urged him to focus on finding his unique pathway and to persevere toward graduation, rather than be overly preoccupied with his numerical chances of getting into a particular school or program. “What matters is that you do well and progress toward a degree,” Tripathi said with a smile, a handshake and a hearty “good luck.”