USU Creates Graduation Guarantee Program for Fall

By and

Utah State University administrators shocked higher education officials with the announcement of a guarantee for entering freshman: Graduate in four years or tuition is free.

Beginning Fall Semester at USU, students enrolled in the Graduation Guarantee Program will sign a contract, agreeing to take so many hours a semester with the promise that in four years they will be wearing a cap and gown.

The program is aimed at getting students through college in a hurry by guaranteeing placement in certain courses required for graduation.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers, as well as the state Board of Regents, have discussed several ways to encourage students to graduate in a timely manner. Last month, the Regents approved two new student taxes?one for students who have excessive credits and another for students who retake classes multiple times.

USU administrators say their program will push students through college even faster than the Regents’ new policies, saving students and taxpayers thousands of dollars.

Regents spokesman Dave Buhler said the board first read about the decision in the newspaper and has yet to review the guidelines established by USU.

U Associate Vice President for Budget and Planning Paul Brinkman said although USU is the first Utah institution to start such a program, a few colleges across the nation have similar guarantees.

Most of Utah’s students take six years to earn an undergraduate degree.

The same is true of U students.

Brinkman believes, however, the U’s slow graduation rate is caused by the number of hours students typically work each week, not class availability.

“We have discussed this kind of a guarantee at the U, but it wouldn’t work for us until the philosophy of higher education in the state changes,” Brinkman said.

“Students who have to work 40 hours a week to support themselves take longer to get through school.”

However, as a consequence of state budget cuts, many class sections at the U have been trimmed.

U administrators originally hiked tuition, hoping the increase would prevent cuts to course offerings. But as the state’s shortfall continues to slide, many departments have been unable to fill faculty vacancies and are left unable to offer as many courses as in the past.

“We are entering a new era in the state and this guarantee may be more applicable in the coming years,” Brinkman said.

During a Regent meeting Friday at Southern Utah University, Regents continued discussion of the current financial situation. During the meeting, Regents voiced support of a plan to again push for a new funding formula that would require the state to distribute fees according to the number of students enrolled at each institution.

The board’s plan is similar to how the legislature funds public education.

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