Focusing on student completion

Academic Voices: A Provost's Blog

Focusing on student completion

As the season begins to change, I have enjoyed watching prospective undergraduate students and their families visit Ohio State. As I think about these students entering our university, I am reminded of the importance of completing college. So many opportunities await these individuals once they graduate — from beginning their professional careers to continuing their academic pursuits with additional studies in graduate or professional school. In Ohio State’s Academic Plan, which was released in November, one of the six priority areas is our commitment to student academic excellence.   

Completing college is an essential outcome of ensuring that higher education is accessible and affordable. Nationally, the six-year college completion rate is 62.3%. Students who attend college without earning a diploma incur debt while also lacking the earning potential that a bachelor’s degree affords. This debt can become debilitating. Thus, college completion must be a top priority for all of us.

Ohio State continues to make progress in helping students complete college. Units across the university, including the Office of Undergraduate Education, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Office of Student Life, and the colleges have provided targeted advising programs, financial literacy training, evidence-based resources, and more. While six-year completion rates have stalled nationally, I am encouraged that Ohio State is making progress in improving our undergraduate completion rates. Data from autumn 2022 show our four-year completion rate increased from 70.8% in autumn 2021 to 72.3% in autumn 2022. In addition, our six-year graduation rate rose slightly to 88.1%, and we are committed to increasing that figure to 90%.

It is easy to take pride in these numerical trends; however, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Perhaps these gains are not equitably distributed across the many populations of students who attend Ohio State. Behind these numbers are students who are experiencing family crises, changing campuses, switching majors, facing financial hardship, or dealing with a personal illness. Many factors prevent college completion. Thus, we have to do the careful work of disaggregating the data, identifying patterns, building better systems, and supporting individual students.


group graduation photo
mom and son celebrating graduation

Success will require coordination across the university. Under the leadership of Senior Vice Provost for Student Academic Excellence Charlene Gilbert, we are enhancing our completion infrastructure. In December, the Office of Academic Affairs held a daylong Student Success Summit, which brought together units across our campuses that contribute to student success. The summit created a university-wide network of student success champions and led to the development of a Completion Action Plan. Further, each college has identified a college-retention liaison who will focus on retention and graduation efforts.

This infrastructure will support many strategies. Vice provost and dean for undergraduate education Norman Jones and Dr. Gilbert are leading the Academic Advising Action Plan, a working group to implement recommendations regarding academic advising. Through Ohio State’s collaboration with JobsOhio and a new grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, we will focus on STEM completion rates.

Vice Provost for Strategic Enrollment Management James Orr is reimagining enrollment to support the student lifecycle, from enrollment to graduation. The Strategic Enrollment Management Team is improving the information technology infrastructure, optimizing scheduling, and integrating financial support to ensure student success. Specifically, the Student Financial Success working group is integrating academic success and financial success by removing financial barriers to course progression.

For example, we are fully implementing ScholarshipUniverse, a scholarship-matching platform that connects Ohio State applicants, as well as current students, to thousands of internal and external scholarship opportunities in a single, secure, easy-to-use online resource. Several colleges and units have begun using ScholarshipUniverse, and our goal is to have the entire university included in a unified system. The university is already providing completion grants, and we will continue to increase access to emergency funds so that course registration fees do not prevent class progression.

Ohio State is placing particular focus on limited-income and first-generation college students. During the 2022-23 academic year, the university welcomed a pilot group of 125 students who are participating in the Scarlet & Gray Advantage (S&GA) program’s cohort. I am encouraged by the data from the cohort. For example, no S&GA participants took out loans for their first year of college, and an astounding 97% of the cohort students reported engaging with campus resources, opportunities, and support structures, such as wellness, tutoring, and career services. As the program enters its second year, we will continue to collect data so that we can implement programming for all Ohio State students that will increase support resources, reduce debt, and open opportunities for jobs and internships.

three graduates pose for a selfie
graduates walking towards camera with diplomas in hand
three graduates walk away from camera with arms around each other

In autumn 2023, Ohio State will launch the Kessler Scholars program, an initiative that will support first-generation students. The program, which is funded by a $1 million, five-year grant from the Kessler Scholars Collaborative, will help to close the gaps between first-generation students and their peers from college-educated families. Seventy-five Kessler scholars will be selected from the 2023-24 incoming class, and each student will receive a $2,000 experiential-learning grant, as well as other university support and resources.

In a few weeks, more young people will learn they have been admitted to The Ohio State University. With the dedication of so many colleagues from across the university, we will ensure that these talented students complete their degrees.

Read previous blog posts here.

graduates pose for O-H-I-O photo