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Four-year graduataion an unrealistic yardstick

A letter to the Post-Standard from President Murphy
2/4


Thursday, February 03, 2005

To the Editor:

I read with concern the Associated Press article titled "Only 40 percent of SUNY students out in four years," written by Michael Gormley.

As is typical with newspaper articles of this type, it fails to fully frame the issues associated with graduation rates, and does not adequately reflect the accomplishments of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

For example, ESF has a five-year program leading to the bachelor of landscape architecture degree. About 10 percent of our undergraduate student population is enrolled in this curriculum. Looking only at a four-year graduation rate ignores such programs.

ESF accepts approximately 50 percent of our incoming class each year as transfer students. Many of those students enter our science and engineering programs fully qualified but missing some of the prerequisite courses needed before they undertake ESF's rigorous upper-division courses. Adding a few prerequisite courses can add another semester or, depending on the student's situation, a year to their college study.

Increasingly, freshmen coming out of high school are not prepared to take on the exacting courses that we offer. Therefore, these students will need additional course work that again delays graduation.

Finally, with the increasing stress of college life as well as the increasing cost of attending college, a significant percentage of students take a leave for a semester or two. Some work to acquire the financial resources necessary to complete their studies. Others act to resolve personal or family issues that may have interfered with their class work.

We at ESF have a strong focus on providing support to best ensure the success of our students. We have implemented a Learning Community initiative to help new students cope with the pressures of college life. Our student affairs staff developed an award-winning orientation program - Evolutions - to better support our freshmen. The college has strengthened its student-to-student tutoring program, initiated an upper-class mentoring program, and has implemented a mathematics-based assessment program for incoming freshmen. Soon we plan to institute a summer bridge program to similarly assist incoming students at our Ranger School, located in Wanakena, N.Y.

A six-year graduation rate - which is a nationally recognized standard - takes into account such differences in academic programs and accommodates various personal situations students face.

As former President Bill Clinton said in his 2003 graduation address, "Don't follow the headlines, follow the trend lines."

Cornelius B. Murphy Jr. President, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

© 2005 The Post-Standard.


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