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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

January 21, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Why is UW Tacoma’s graduation rate low?

UW-Tacoma campus. Photo by Lindsey Wasson / The Seattle Times 2014.

UW-Tacoma campus. Photo by Lindsey Wasson / The Seattle Times 2014.

During a University of Washington Board of Regents meeting this month, regent Joanne Harrell raised questions about UW Tacoma’s low graduation rates, one of the lowest among public four-year schools in the state.

Turns out that the university is showing steady improvement, but its latest graduation rates aren’t yet available on websites that compile those statistics.

In 2012, UW Tacoma’s six-year graduation rate was just 43 percent — that is, just 43 percent of first-time, full-time students graduated from the school after six years. But UW Tacoma spokesman Mike Wark said that number was likely affected by the relatively new experience of having students on campus for all the years of their schooling.  (UW Tacoma only began accepting freshmen in 2006.)

For 2014, the school’s six-year graduation rate was 52 percent, he said. And for students who transfer to UW Tacoma from other schools (such as community colleges), the graduation rate is 90 percent.

That’s slightly better than the national graduation average of 51 percent of those who start at a public four-year institution and complete their degree at that same school.

Washington’s four-year colleges tend to be well above the national average — the UW Seattle campus has a six-year graduation rate of 80 percent, for example, and Washington State University, Western Washington University and the UW Bothell are 64 percent or above, as well.

UW Tacoma is the most diverse public campus in Washington, and it also has the largest number of students on federal Pell grants for low-income students. Groups of diverse, low-income students are often the first in their families to go to college, and generally have one of the lowest graduation rates.

During the regents meeting, UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce said the UW Tacoma’s emphasis has been on expanding access to college, but now that it’s maturing, the emphasis will shift to better graduation rates. Raising the rate will be one of the key jobs for the school’s new chancellor, Mark Pagano, who is currently provost at Montana State University Billings and will start in Tacoma in March.

Comments | More in News | Topics: higher education, University of Washington Tacoma

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