Students throwing their graduation caps up into the air. In 2019, Stony Brook University’s 4-year graduation rate rose to 64%, up from 40% in 2006. PUBLIC DOMAIN

Stony Brook University’s 4-year graduation rate increased 17% over the past six years, according to Stony Brook University Interim President, Michael Bernstein.

In 2019, the 4-year graduation rate rose to 64%, demonstrating a steady increase since a 40% 4-year graduation rate in Spring 2006. The rate fluctuated between 40 and 47% until 2013, when it hit a steady incline, according to a chart displayed at the State of the University address given by Bernstein. 

“We measure student success in many ways,” Bernstein said during the State of the University address. “One of the most important ways is graduation rates … we achieved a 17 percentage point increase in the 4-year grad rate over a 6-year period. That’s stunning.”

The school is headed towards a one percent increase on graduation rates per year over the next several years, Braden Hosch, the Associate Vice President for Institutional Research, Planning, and Effectiveness, said. With that trend, the university wants to see the 4-year rate closer to 70% and the 6-year rate near 80%.

The 6-year graduation rate, measured by the number of students who graduate within six years, is also increasing. The rate rose from 68% in 2013 to 78% in 2019.

It is natural, Hosch said, for the 6-year rate to rise as the 4-year rate does since the two rates overlap, but he would like to see that gap narrow.

Though Stony Brook has made progress on its overall graduation rates, the university still sees a gap between men and women, Charles Robbins, the vice provost for Undergraduate Education and dean of the Undergraduate Colleges, said. 

“The one that has been the most challenging has been the gender-based gap, with male students graduating at a statistically significantly lower rate than women students,” Robbins said. “And we’ve been able to now close that gap by … seven percentage points, [but] it’s still too high.”

Hosch said that, even on a national level, “women significantly outperform men” in terms of graduating. In 2017, the most recent year that data is available, 63% of women graduated in six years compared to 57% of men. At Stony Brook, measured from the graduating classes of 2016 and 2017, 80% of women graduate in six years while 71% of men graduate in six years, according to Hosch. 

Even as a gender gap persists, Stony Brook has been able to narrow the graduation gap between races, Hosch said. White, black and Hispanic students graduated at 61%, 59% and 63%, respectively in 2018. 

Hispanic students at Stony Brook have made the most ground on graduation rates. In 2015, 42% of Hispanic students graduated in four years. In 2018, that number increased to 63%. 

Asian students typically graduate at a higher rate than other demographics. The latest figure from 2018 showed more than 70% of Asian students graduating in four years. With the exception of 2016, the 4-year graduation rate for Asian students has increased by at least three percentage points every year since 2013.  

Stony Brook has been able to improve these rates by developing a multi-pronged approach. It established the Finish in Four program, which aims to “help students stay on track to graduate,” according to its website, and offers mini-grants for students to complete their degree in four years. The university also offers an Academic Success Team, which exists to “enhance the undergraduate student’s academic experience and enhance their ability to graduate in a timely manner,” Robbins said. 

The school has done, according to Hosch, “virtually everything that we can think of” to raise the graduation rates. But with new programs and better planning, targeting specific students has been one of the most effective ways to increase the rate, Hosch said.  

“Next door to me, I have a data scientist and her job largely centers around coming up with algorithms to help us identify students who need academic support so that we can get support to them before they need it,” he said. “Just in time is great, but before is even better, right?”

The university targets men who they consider to be in jeopardy, but they also consider grade point average (GPA) when determining which students need help. A student’s first term college GPA is a strong indicator for when students will eventually graduate, Hosch said. If a first-semester student earns between a 2.0 and 2.99, the university reaches out, either by speaking directly with the student or sending text messages suggesting which class a student should enroll in, he explained.   

Though the school encourages students to graduate in four years, Hosch said he understands some students may need more time than that. Financially though, Hosch believes it is in the students’ best interests to leave Stony Brook four years after they arrive. They won’t have to continue paying tuition and they can begin working and starting their careers, he said.

“The hidden opportunity cost [is what] many people weren’t really thinking about. So that when you get out, when you get out a year earlier, you have a year extra to work across the rest of your life,” Hosch said. “That extra year you have to work is going to happen somewhere in your career. That’s an extra $58,000 somewhere.”

Robbins said the school will continue to strive for higher graduation rates. 

“Am I satisfied with either of them [the four-year graduation rate and the gender graduation gap]? No,” he said. “I have no doubt that we can do better and that our students can do better, so we are continuing to aspire to do better and have our students do better.”

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