Graduation Guarantee

Christina Kelso

Photo illustration by Grace Singer

Incoming freshmen merging into the Jacksonville University scene in the Fall 2012 semester will be the first class offered a new and innovative opportunity. Before diving into their curriculum, students have the option to sign-on to the new Four-Year Graduation Guarantee.

After signing their names on the dotted line, the students will, if they adhere to the stipulations of the agreement, be guaranteed to graduate within a four year time frame. If a student following the contract reaches the end of his or her four years and is unable to graduate, JU will take on all remaining tuition costs, after financial aid, until the student graduates.

While some majors such as the five-year education or 3/2 engineering programs do not qualify, this commitment from the school offers most incoming students peace of mind when planning for their educational costs.

Directed by the mind of Terry Whittum, vice president of enrollment management, the guarantee is set out with high enthusiasm and expectations.

“We’re excited,” said Whittum. “My hope is that we’ll see an improvement in retention and an improvement in the number of students who graduate in four years.”

Believed to be the first of its kind in Florida, JU sets forth a proactive example in tackling the national issue of high retention rates and student debt. According to the enrollment management, less than 38 percent of college students nationwide graduate in the standard four years.

The magnitude of this emerges from an unnervingly increasing tendency of students to drop classes for less than valid reasons, as well as instances where students must stay because the school itself does not offer a core degree requirement during a particular semester.

Consequently, students have been taking on higher loan debts than ever seen before. The amount of federal student loans taken out, according to the College Board and the JU webpage, has climbed 61 percent from 1997 to 2007, and private loans from two billion to 17 billion in the same time span.

Adding a fifth or sixth year to a degree creates substantial costs and potential for debt in both apparent and unseen ways. Not only are students paying tuition but there is also the costs of room and board, loss of financial aid and scholarships due to common four-year limitations and a staggered start into the workforce causing a notable loss of potential earnings.

In a feat to counteract adversity, the graduation agreement encourages an increased symbiotic relationship between Jacksonville University and the student body. While the guarantee encourages students to be more proactive towards the goal of graduation, it also is intended to help the school determine what courses will have to be offered each semester to ensure students are provided with courses needed to meet their core graduation requirements.

“It’s for the students and is also an incentive for us too,” said Whittum.

Funding for this initiative is not expected to have much of an impact in the University budget. While the school will take on the tuition costs of qualifying students out of the financial aid budget, it is expected to be a small investment.

Students in the program will be provided with additional advising throughout each semester they spend at JU. This provides an opportunity for faculty to work diligently with students to ensure that they grasp their caps and gowns on time; because of this, the University does not expect taking on the costs of students to be the norm but instead an exception.

The ambition is to create a new norm for Jacksonville University in the years to come, a statistical reality of higher four-year graduation rates and substantially lower student debt.

A full description of the guarantee’s stipulations can be found on the Jacksonville University Web page.