MADISON — The overall graduation rate for the University of Wisconsin System is above the national average, David J. Ward, UW System senior vice president for academic affairs, reported to the Board of Regents Friday.

Ward noted that full time students who start at a UW institution graduate at a rate of 51.8 percent over a six-year period. The national average is estimated to be 47.6 percent. Ward noted that the UW System has been working to help students shorten their time in school, including making an optional “four-year degree graduation contract” available to students at every UW campus.

But, he added, “time to degree is an extraordinarily complex issue and many of the educational experiences that our students want-study abroad, internships, double-majors, the need to work part-time, even low tuitions-lengthen the time they will spend getting a degree.”

Ward told the Regents that a more meaningful measure of an individual student’s ability to get an undergraduate diploma more swiftly is “credits to degree.”

He said that a decade ago, students took, on average, 145 credits to graduate from a UW System campus, whereas now the average is 140 credits-the equivalent of about half a semester for full-time students.

But Ward acknowledged to the Regents that there is still room for improvement. Six-year graduation rates have remained largely unchanged for the past 25 years, he noted.

“We have more students who are ‘undecided’ about what they want to major in than ever before,” he said, “which also delays their completion rate.”

“This points to the need for more access to faculty and staff who can advise these students,” he said.

Ward also said that some professions such as engineering and accounting are requiring students to take much more coursework to become certified or qualified to practice.

On a positive note, campuses are offering more options to shorten time and credits to degree, including distance education offerings, summer sessions and evening and weekend classes. There has been a phenomenal growth in Intersessions (courses offered between the fall and spring semesters), said Ward.

Ward said that the university will continue to monitor the time-to-degree situation, and suggested that Friday’s presentation may signal more board attention to the graduation rate issue.

“Students and their families care deeply about this issue,” said Ward, “and we want to assure them that we are doing everything we can to make sure that students have options that allow them to get degrees quickly if that is their desire.


Sharyn Wisniewski, UW System
(608) 262-6448