We can eliminate many known graduation obstacles by requiring Utah colleges to take direct financial responsibility for the progress of students. I am calling this college completion program “Graduation MAPs” (Most Affordable Pathways). This proposal has the endorsement of my House co-chair of the higher education appropriations committee, Rep. Keith Grover.
I want to mention upfront that this proposal is motivated in large part by my absolute confidence that the Utah System of Higher Education (“USHE”) and our Utah colleges and universities have the right leadership in place to successfully take this bold step. I deeply love these dedicated professionals and public servants. With appropriate legislative encouragement—which includes adequate funding and significant deference to Higher Ed’s vastly superior experience and knowledge of detail—our higher education leaders will craft innovative, effective solutions.
One might ask, “If you have such confidence in the professionals, why the legislative push?” Simple. That is how the system works best. As I tell my friends in higher education, “You know all the questions, and you have all the answers. Left to your own devices, you would figure it all out . . . in 30 or 40 years. My job is to get you there in 3 or 4.” Someone has to get the stakeholders to the table and keep them there until they make the hard decisions.
Utah colleges currently lack financial incentive to graduate students. To the contrary, significant revenue is generated by students wandering aimlessly through the system, taking courses that do not lead to a degree. Tragically, a majority of tuition revenue in the Utah System of Higher Education (“USHE”) is paid by students who will never graduate.
No doubt, students own some of the responsibility for wandering in the system and not completing. But, much of the responsibility belongs to the State of Utah. Graduation MAPs will hold the State accountable for its shortcomings. That way—and only that way—those shortcomings will be corrected.
Graduation MAPs will apply to students who commit to completing a degree in 8 semesters (over a six-year period). Those students must take and pass at least 15 credit hours/semester in specified classes, often in a specific order. They must pick a major before starting their third semester.
In exchange for those guided efforts, each Utah college will provide the courses necessary for MAP students to graduate within 8 semesters. Tuition will not increase for MAP students more than 2%/year. If USHE is unable to graduate a MAP student within 8 semesters, USHE will pick up the entire cost of the students’ tuition and fees until the remaining courses are completed.
Graduation MAPs and the resulting financial accountability will force USHE to deal with several known obstacles to graduation. I will describe a few of those obstacles.
1. Space in gateway courses (pre-requisites) often is not available to students. So, students must wait a semester or a year to take the gateway course—giving an upper hand to the 2 great enemies of college completion: time and money. If USHE shoulders financial responsibility for that wasted time and money, solutions will blossom (e.g., opening more class sections, creating space by dropping non-attending students, and employing more efficient delivery methodologies).
2. USHE institutions are not sufficiently aligned regarding degree requirements, transfer of credits, and quality of instruction. That non-alignment forces students to take or retake additional courses—again giving an upper hand to the time and money demons. Financial accountability will force institutions and deans to align graduation requirements and improve the quality of courses at all institutions (so that Institution A legitimately can accept course credits from Institution B).
3. Utah’s higher education system lacks sufficient flexibility. Requiring USHE to keep its 8-semester promise to graduation MAP students likely will require a more robust “General Studies Degree” and improved institutional collaboration and distance-learning options to accommodate students who move from one institution to another (where, for example, the original major may not exist).
4. Many high school graduates simply are not prepared to complete college in 8 semesters. USHE must work to remediate those students; but, USHE cannot be expected to do the work of K12 and college instruction in 8 semesters. Graduation MAPs will force USHE to have the difficult conversations with high schools and parents that it should have been having for the past several decades. Things will change when the parents of Utah high school graduates with 4.0 GPAs are told, “Your child doesn’t qualify for Graduation MAPs, because (s)he is not ready for college math or English.” Currently, those parents are unaware that their children have been set up to fail. (A student who takes a remedial class has a 25% likelihood of completing college; by the way, math 1010 is remedial).
5. Concurrent enrollment courses (college courses that high school students take for dual credit) need some refinement. Some courses don’t track toward a major. Other courses don’t deliver the needed competencies. It shouldn’t be too hard to identify the good and the less good in our evolved concurrent enrollment offerings. Forcing USHE to be more accountable for the real value of concurrent enrollment courses will focus Utah on what college courses will most benefit the students.
Those are the broad strokes. Please poke, prod, bomb, comment, or provide other input to make it better.