Published May 13, 2016
In 2012, UB launched Finish in 4, an innovative program that pledges to give freshmen the resources to graduate within four years.
That investment is now paying off: Many of the first students to enroll in the program will earn their degrees this month, graduating at a far higher rate than peers around the country.
Of the 1,479 students who signed up for Finish in 4 in its inaugural year, 931 — 63 percent — are expected to graduate by the end of this semester. That far exceeds the nation’s average four-year graduation rate of 34 percent for public institutions, the latest figure available from the National Center for Education Statistics.
“Finish in 4 is our commitment to helping students earn their degree in a timely manner,” says A. Scott Weber, senior vice provost for academic affairs. “Students and their families have embraced it. They recognize the value of the program, which has helped establish a culture and conversation on campus that timely graduation is important to both students and the university.”
“With Finish in 4, the important thing is that the students have a goal, they have a target,” says Emmanuel Lazatin, the father of UB senior Paula Bianca Lazatin, a triple major from Niagara Falls who will graduate this month with a degree in political science, international studies and German. “I think it helps them focus on their education — not just completing it on time, but on their education in general.”
Through Finish in 4, UB commits to providing students with resources such as seats in required classes and a clear curricular plan — a semester-by-semester outline of all the courses they need to take to earn a degree in four years.
In exchange, participants pledge to adhere to program requirements. This includes following the curricular plan, registering on time and communicating with an academic adviser at least once a semester. Students also must take a major and career assessment their first year and be in an approved major by the completion of 60 credits.
The program helps to keep college affordable by minimizing the amount families spend on tuition and giving students the opportunity to start their careers sooner. Participants who fulfill all program obligations but are unable to graduate in four years can finish their degree at UB free of tuition and fees.
Lazatin, the triple major from Niagara Falls, says the program teaches responsibility.
“Finish in 4 strengthened my focus on my goals for my academic career and provided the resources to guarantee my success,” says Lazatin, who serves as an ambassador for the program, helping to answer student and parent questions about it. “The organizational skills and responsibility taken from Finish in 4 are traits that not only aid in the transition from high school to university life, but also in the transition from graduation into the workforce or graduate school.”
Nikki Scerra, a biomedical engineering major graduating this month, says Finish in 4 “took all the guesswork out” of planning her academic career.
“You are forced to meet with an adviser every semester to make sure you’re still on track to graduate within four years. It’s great to have my schedule planned out so I can focus on other things as well,” says Scerra, who took advantage of her time at UB by joining engineering societies, working as a student assistant on campus and interning with New Era Cap on projects related to her major.
Since Scerra and Lazatin joined Finish in 4, interest in the program has been growing among students, with enrollment in the program rising from about half of the freshman class in 2012 to 75 percent for the class entering in fall 2015.
For all undergraduates, UB ingrains the idea of graduating in four years by introducing it at orientation and reinforcing it throughout a student’s career via avenues such as class-year Facebook pages and souvenirs that build pride in a specific graduation year.
Finish in 4 is part of a comprehensive approach toward improving graduation rates that has earned UB national recognition and produced measurable results for all students.
For example, UB has built additional capacity in high-demand undergraduate classes, increased advising capacity and adopted an early-alert system designed to identify students encountering academic difficulty.
The results of these investments are paying off both in improvement of graduation rates and UB’s national visibility.
The university’s four-year graduation rate rose from 35 percent in 2005 to 55 percent in 2015, while the six-year graduation rate climbed from 59 percent to 74 percent over the same period.
UB’s innovations — including Finish in 4 — were a catalyst for a 2013 visit to UB by President Barack Obama, during which he delivered a major speech on national higher education policy.
In 2015, the university was named as one of five finalists for the 2015 Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Project Degree Completion Award, which recognizes universities that embrace innovative strategies to increase undergraduate retention and graduation, and create clear, accelerated pathways for student success.
In 2013, UB was one of only six public research universities recognized as a Next Generation University by the New America Foundation for “the strategies they’ve used to expand enrollment and achieve higher graduation rates in a cost-effective manner despite declining revenues.” In 2014, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo set a second-term policy priority to expand Finish in 4 statewide, and in 2015, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher recognized Finish in 4 as an innovative program that drives degree completion and announced that SUNY plans to replicate the program in colleges and universities system-wide.
And this year, The Education Trust issued a report that praised UB for improving graduation rates for black students. The percentage of black students who completed their degree within six years at UB rose by 20 points between 2003 and 2013, according to the organization’s calculations.
UB’s success in raising graduation rates is the result of smart investments of time and resources.
Emmanuel Lazatin says he thinks UB’s focus on graduation for all students, and not just those in Finish in 4, is great: “Starting a career is all about timing,” he says. “The economy, the opportunities available, change every day. By being focused on finishing in time, it gets you to where you need to be so you can take advantage of those opportunities.”